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Old Saybrook High School rising senior Bailey Appiah was among the volunteers helping collect school supplies for Old Saybrook Social Services’ Stuff the Bus program on Aug. 3. (Photo by Susan Consoli )
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As the start of school nears, many children pick out brand-new backpacks and fill them with the notebooks and pencils they’ll need for the year. But there are parents across the shoreline wondering how they’ll manage, on limited incomes, to purchase their children basic school supplies, never mind the backpacks in which to carry them.
Old Saybrook Social Services, along with partner organizations like the Valley Shore YMCA (VSYMCA), has begun its annual collection of backpacks and school supplies for children in need, not just in Saybrook, but in Westbrook, Clinton, and other nearby towns.
On the first Saturday in August, social services staff and volunteers participated in Stuff the Bus, an event sponsored by The Salvation Army in collaboration with Walmart. Customers were asked to purchase extra school supplies to fill the school bus parked outside—the manager of the Old Saybrook Walmart even allowed Social Services Coordinator Susan Consoli’s team to place flyers on the shelves of school supplies, Consoli said.
Out on the sidewalk, volunteers in Salvation Army T-shirts rang the bell and asked for monetary donations to be placed in the kettle, and when people asked, “Is it Christmas?” they explained that the money would be spent on school supplies for those who can’t afford them.
“We pack and distribute over 200 backpacks each year and these are the same kids that we help with our holiday giving programs,” said Consoli.
Local organizations and businesses, including a local women’s golfing group and Shayna B’s by the Sea, have collected supplies and donated them to social services, Consoli said.
“We accept individual donations as folks go shopping and can buy extras to give to others in need,” she said.
Donations can be delivered directly to Old Saybrook Youth & Family Services at 322 Main Street through Thursday, Aug. 22.
Kids in the area “are also in need of new shoes, socks, and warm hoodies for the cold weather,” Consoli said. These donations help “early in the morning at the bus stops in September and October before the Warm the Children program starts and helps supply warm coats. Monetary donations are also welcome.”
Backpacks filled with supplies will be distributed at the Social Services Help Day on Thursday, Aug. 22. At the time of writing, Consoli said the organization was in need of around 130 additional backpacks.
VSYMCA is also collecting backpacks through Monday, Aug. 19, but its program, dubbed Operation Backpack, works a little differently than that of Old Saybrook Social Services. Rather than collect donations of backpacks and supplies separately, the VSYMCA asks members to take a tag from a poster indicating whether the child they are shopping for is a boy or a girl and is in elementary school, middle school, or high school. They then purchase a backpack and fill it with supplies.
Monetary donations may also be made; VSYMCA staff will use the money to purchase backpacks and supplies.
VSYMCA provides 10 to 15 of the backpacks donated by its members to Westbrook Youth & Family Services and more than 40 to Old Saybrook Social Services to distribute at the Aug. 22 Social Services Help Day. It also provides three to each of the schools in Clinton, Westbrook, Old Saybrook, Region 4, Old Lyme, and East Lyme, a total of 28 schools, said VSYMCA Controller Debbie Quinn, who coordinates the effort.
“We make sure that there’s at least three backpacks filled with supplies [at each school] so that if a child comes to school with just a pencil in hand, the school can just gently put some supplies their way,” said Quinn.
Details about the VSYMCA’s Operation Backpack can be be found at vsymca.org/ymca-operation-backpack.
Items being collected by Old Saybrook Social Services include:
Backpacks of all sizes
Travel-size hand sanitizer
Gift cards for shoes
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