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Amherst renews goal of Project Backpack

AMHERST — The Amherst school district is again collecting new backpacks and schools supplies to distribute before the start of school to students in need.

This will be the project’s sixth year and the fifth for a companion effort, Safe Seats for Kids, which provides car seats for income-eligible families.

Project Backpack is a collaborative effort by the schools and many community organizations which donate packs, supplies and cash, said Kimberly Stender, director of community partnership and volunteers for the schools. Packs are filled with grade-appropriate tools such as notebooks, erasers, folders, glue sticks, markers, crayons, assignment pads, loose leaf paper and graphing calculators.

Last year, the schools distributed about 450 backpacks.

“Every year, there is a greater number of students who are income eligible, so the numbers for supplies grow,” Stender said. “We want to be prepared to fill any request. I think we’re looking at 450 to 480 backpacks this year,” Stender added.

In mid-May, the school department sent letters about the program to families. Those who want to take part can send back a form to sign up. Backpacks will be distributed Aug. 11 and 12 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Amherst Regional Public School Family Center located at the middle school at 170 Chestnut St.

Community groups supporting the project include the Amherst Rotary Club, the Amherst Lions Club and Lexalytics Large Technology, as well as individual community members, who donate money to the project. If people are interested in making monetary donations to the project, they can make checks payable to ARPS, and put Project Backpack in the memo line. They can send their checks to 170 Chestnut St.

“We think it’s a great project for local families who need assistance. It’s expensive buying all this school supplies,” said Ellen Carey, Rotary Club secretary and co-chair of project backpack. “The Rotary Club in Amherst is happy to participate. We put it on our agenda as an annual project.”

The club supplies about 150 backpacks intended for elementary school students filled with glue sticks, rulers, colored pencils, pens and notebooks, Carey said. She and Jocelyn Potter, the other co-chair of Project Backpack, shop for the gear and supplies at local stores when the back-to school sales begin.

This is the third year Project Backpack is partnering with Safe Kids of Western Mass, a Springfield-based organization, to provide most of the car seats given to income-eligible families. Before the partnership began, the Amherst Police Department, which still provides some, supplied all of the car seats.

This year the program intends to hand out around 50 seats. Families participating in the Backpack Project may indicate their need for a car seat on the same form and pick them up on the same day, said Stender. Police officers and firefighters will be on hand to help install the seats.

Stender said that this year, the program particularly needs backpacks for middle school and high school students. She said the older students prefer plain backpacks in solid colors like gray, black and blue.

For those wishing to donate, there are several drop-off locations: the Amherst Regional Public School Family Center, the Jones Library, 43 Amity St., DeMaio Orthodontics, 23 Pray St., or Art alive Amherst, 35 S. Pleasant St.

Stender said organizers hope to have all donations in by Friday.

“This has been such an anticipated event each school year, and it’s been very gratifying being a part of it,” she said. “I’m just very grateful to the community partners and our residents who help make project backpack such a tremendous success. Families are happy, and the kids are excited that they’re getting new backpacks and supplies.”

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