Pikes Peak United Way and COS I Love You teamed for their third annual Backpack Bash on July 31 and Aug. 7 and distributed around 13,000 backpacks at seven locations.
The annual event provides backpacks and school supplies to elementary through high school students. This year at the first event, locations included Sierra High School, Mountain Springs Church and Pikes Peak Christian Church in Widefield.
During the final weekend, locations included Tri-Lakes YMCA, Doherty and Coronado high schools at Hillside Connection.
About 60 percent of backpacks go toward elementary students while the other 40 aids middle and high schoolers.
Items included in high school bags include binders, pocket folders, loose-leaf paper, spiral notebooks, pens, pencils and highlighters, a limited supply of scientific calculators, hand sanitizer and masks.
Minus calculators, elementary and middle school backpacks contained much of the same but added crayons, markers, scissors and glue.
“Things went smoothly and we gave out about 4,000 backpacks out here (at Sierra High School),” said Elizabeth Quevedo, Pikes Peak United Way director of Colorado Springs Promise. “Sierra was our largest site and we started out at 3,500 backpacks and had to get more. That’s always a good thing. A core of volunteers arrived at 7 (a.m.) and shortly after we had a group of parents here to get backpacks.”
In 2020, the organizations distributed about 8,000 for the entire event. During the first weekend of the bash, they provided around 6,000 backpacks at the three locations.
“We have about 50 different organizations, churches, individuals and businesses who have chipped in,” Quevedo said. “That’s been through donation drives and sponsoring. … Wal-Mart has been a tremendous asset for us and have put donation bins in all their stores as well as donating $1,000 worth of supplies from each store. With our sponsorship dollars, we were able to order the supplies we were missing. We ordered most of our backpacks because those are high-ticket items.”
Pikes Peak United Way and COS I Love You added two sites this year for the final week to limit travel for families.
Quevedo said this, along with partnering agencies who, “are in the industry of helping families,” allowed them to increase their goal from 8,000 in 2020 to 15,000 backpacks this year.
“From what they’re telling us the need is in the community that’s how we gauge what our goals are going to be,” Quevedo said. “Last year, we had five sites, this year we have seven. By spreading these throughout the community, we have the ability to let these families come and easily get these backpacks.”
Stu Davis, COS I Love You executive director, also stressed the importance of inclusivity with this event after 2020 stymied contact. Physical distancing guidelines in 2020 changed the bash from face-to-face to a drive-thru event.
Both organizations want to help families who need it, but also want them to understand they provide more than school supplies.
“It’s a backpack - they’re items that will get used and, at some point, lose their usefulness,” Davis said. “But the symbol of: We’re here, we want to care for you and want you to have a great school year, I think that message is what we want to continue to perpetuate. … Even though it’s just a backpack with materials in it there’s a message that lives beyond that.”
Davis said they demonstrated that inclusiveness on Aug. 7 with services such as dental and eye exams as well as haircuts.
During the first week, they invited El Paso County Health to provide free COVID-19 vaccinations.
El Paso County remains atop the state COVID-19 cases along with its variants. EPCH hopes to help lower cases as school starts and remain grateful to have shots in a convenient location.
“To be able to provide that kind of service on site for people who are already here, that’s what this is all about,” Davis said. “I saw a lot of families come through that line who seemed like they hadn’t gotten a good opportunity to line up at a clinic until now.”
Ashley Gessner of El Paso County Health said they started the day with no registrations but administered 70 shots.
“We even had to refill on shots once,” Gessner said. “It was a great turnout and we had way more people than we expected. Everywhere we go our mission is to get as many people vaccinated as we can.”
This story has been updated to include approximate numbers for backpack distributions.