By Kathy Chouteau
If you notice a bevy of school-age children carrying brightly-colored backpacks around Richmond today, they are likely coming from the Bay Area Rescue Mission’s (BARM) annual Backpack & School Supply Giveaway at 123 Macdonald Ave.
Equipped with $15,000 from Chevron Richmond and donations from other supporters, the nonprofit expected to give away 1,000 backpacks stocked with school supplies—dubbed ‘Gifts of Love’—to Pre-K through 12th graders from the West Contra Costa Unified School District at socially distant, staggered time slots throughout the day.
According to BARM VP of Development Stephanie Sewell, 100 volunteers helped stock the backpacks with school swag like markers, rulers, binders, folders, notebooks, pens, pencils, markers, glue sticks and other supplies. Kids could choose their preferred color backpack from a wide array of options: Ash gray, lime green, tiger orange, Biscay green, scarlet red, saffron gold, celestial blue and black beauty.
“Our goal is to have every child walk into their school feeling proud, feeling great about themselves with all their new school supplies on their back with a new backpack,” said Sewell. She added that after more than a year of COVID-19 with kids stuck at home, BARM wanted to “set them up for success.”
As an added bonus at this year’s event, the first 500 backpacks picked up have STEM kits where kids can construct cool structures like a “trashketball” trashcan basketball hoop, per BARM’s graphic design and social media guru Steve Lee.
The nonprofit is also giving out one age-appropriate gift per child this year, stocked with presents from its COVID-cancelled Christmas gift giveaway last year. Lee said they didn’t tell anyone about it in advance, wanting it to be a surprise when families show up today, i.e., “here’s an extra little goodie for you.”
This year, BARM has increased the number of backpacks it’s giving away by 300 versus last year. Two decades ago when the giveaway started, 20 backpacks were distributed to kids, illustrating a significant increase since the event’s early days.
BARM is a nonprofit that serves more than 70,000 impoverished men, women and children annually with crucial services such as food, clothing, shelter, recovery programs, life/job skills training, job placement, family reconciliation and counseling. Learn more here.