Lines of multicolored backpacks blanketed tables at Garfield Early Childhood Center Wednesday, a portion of the supplies local organizations gathered last month to benefit over 1,200 local students.

They and the boxes of supplies behind them were the plentiful aftermath of a very busy morning, said Deb Olyer, executive director of the Finney County United Way and a supply donation drive coordinator.

“We had people there at 7 o’clock this morning … And the line went almost to Plaza (Medical Center). It went all the away around the school and down. It was crazy,” Olyer said.

United Way partnered with the Salvation Army, the LiveWell Finney County Health Coalition, Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas, Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, Garden City USD 457 and other local businesses and organizations to provide backpacks and supplies to hundreds of local low income students, giving them a vital “hand-up,” Olyer said.

Families’ eligibility was income-based, including children who qualified for the SNAP program, free or reduced meals at the district or otherwise met Kansas’ poverty level guidelines, Olyer said.

Families shared proof of income when entering the room, then moved to the different grade level sections of the tables of backpacks to receive supplies for each of their children. Kids scanned the table to choose a style or color they liked before volunteers loaded them up with the appropriate bag of supplies. Some students handed filled backpacks off to their parents, and others strapped them on themselves.

Two young girls walked in circles as their parents spoke to a volunteer, adjusting and playfully hiking up too-long straps. Families with one, two and four children left the room, with all members wearing new backpacks.

The drive helped parents, especially those with more than one child in the district, and offered needed access to students at a disadvantage, Olyer said.

“It’s one more thing that we can do to help the kids be successful and take away that barrier…” Olyer said. “You can look at the backpacks, and when they go to school, they’re not going to be able to tell who got a free backpack and who didn’t … It puts everyone on that level playing field.”

Olyer said local organizations had been accepting supply donations for about two and a half weeks, gathering backpacks of all sizes and styles, spiral notebooks, paper, folders, binders and various art supplies at events like Stuff the Bus, where community members dropped off supplies at school buses parked around Garden City, and from individual donors. On top of donations, the organizations bought many backpacks wholesale, she said.

Supply bags were broken down by grade level, sorted by district supply lists, Olyer said.

Other local organizations also used the event to offer services. USD 457’s migrant program, which provides aid to students from families that move often to follow available agricultural work, also handed out backpacks and supplies to their clients, including supply-filled boxes from Kits for Kidz.

Migrant parent advocate Blanca Cano said the federally-funded program had to keep its services separate for budgeting reasons; their funds had to be used to help their kids.

Genesis Family Health was also present, handing out dental screenings and immunization vouchers, Olyer said.

The mass distribution only lasted Wednesday, Olyer said, though leftover backpacks and supplies may be available at USD 457 schools or local nonprofits at later dates. For details, she said families could contact Finney County United Way.

Cano said students in the migrant program who missed the backpack program could contact the USD 457 Educational Support Center.

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