Local nonprofit invites parents to register for backpack full of school supplies

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — The first day of class for students is quickly approaching. Some area schools, including Brandywine Community Schools and Niles Community Schools, have set a pre-Labor Day start date of Aug. 31. This means the first day of class could be in just five weeks.

The Niles Salvation Army, 424 N. 15th St., is hosting its 2020 Backpack Giveaway on Aug. 13 in a drive-thru format. Families will need to register for the backpacks by Aug. 7. The backpacks are available for families with school aged children in southern Berrien County and Cass County.

With many unknowns, including what the school year will look like for students and how the economy will continue to fare during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Niles Salvation Army is hoping to alleviate some of the burden on parents. The financial strain and time commitment to acquiring school supplies can place extra stress on families already working hard to make ends meet.

The event has been hosted on a first-come, first-served basis in the past.  With COVID-19 concerns and gathering mandates in place, the Niles Salvation Army has a signup form on its website, including time slots for backpack pickup, spaced out in 30-minute increments. Each time slot between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 13 has limited availability. The staff at the Salvation Army hope to avoid crowding in the office during supply pickups.

“Normally, we do all of this in person,” said Salvation Army Lt. Kendra Hixenbaugh. “With COVID-19, we are doing it all online or over the phone. They can either call the office or go to our website and sign up.”

The supplies, and each backpack themselves, are donated.

“We’re going to do what we can to fulfill the schools’ supply lists, but it will also depend on what donations we get in,” Hixenbaugh said.

For those interested in donating school supplies, Hixenbaugh said all of the supplies must be new.

“We don’t want to give anybody a used backpack,” she said.

Providing a new backpack unique to the student this year is especially important with COVID-19 protocols around shared surfaces and supplies.

Supplies the Niles Salvation Army is seeking for the backpacks include pens, highlighters, index cards, notebooks, folders and binders.

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