BARM backpack giveaway readies students for back-to-school success

BARM backpack giveaway readies students for back-to-school success
All photos by Kathy Chouteau

By Kathy Chouteau

Richmond’s Bay Area Rescue Mission’s (BARM) ethos to “love without limits” was on full display today as staff members, volunteers and local families gathered on lower Macdonald Avenue for its annual back-to-school backpack giveaway.

During an event marking its quarter of a century trip around the sun, BARM and volunteers from Chevron Richmond and FedEx pitched in to distribute 1,000 backpacks to school age children whose families might otherwise not be able to afford them.

President and CEO of the BARM Bram Begonia said that amid COVID and skyrocketing prices at the pump and the grocery store, “hundreds of local families are struggling just to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.” He add that, buying school supplies is unreachable for many families, so “we want to make sure their children have the tools they need to succeed in class.”

During Thursday’s event, children from families that pre-registered chose from a selection of vibrantly colored backpacks stocked full with school supplies like six-subject binders, notebooks, protractors, pens, color pencils, glue sticks, Golden State Warriors folders, etc.—a value of $75. BARM said it purchases the backpacks and its contents at wholesale “to maximize the value,” while Chevron pitches in on providing the school supplies.

“Every kid gets a different color [backpack], so it’s more of a personalized touch,” said Stephanie Sewell, BARM VP of Development.

According to Sewell, while demand for this year’s backpacks was more prevalent than ever—registrations ‘sold out’ a week before the event—the same economic conditions spurring this fervent community response have also adversely impacted BARM.

Sewell said that BARM’s biggest challenge right now is inflation and the corresponding 25 percent increase in costs, which makes purchasing backpacks daunting at a time when they hope to double, and eventually, triple their future distribution numbers. Adding to that challenge is another one: A dip in donations for a charitable organization that depends on them.

“Generosity has plummeted, which I totally understand because of gas prices and food prices…but it is a challenging season for all of us across the spectrum,” she said. “So for us to raise more money is a challenge, but we do not want to let our kids in this community miss out.”

To BARM, the overarching impact of what they accomplish by hosting the annual backpack giveaway runs deeper than school supplies. “By doing this, if we give them things like this, then they can pay their power bill, their electricity bill, pay their rent…so we’re trying to prevent homelessness,” she said.

And while in the organization’s early years of hosting the event they handed out hundreds rather than thousands of backpacks, over the last ten years they ramped up their efforts to the point that Sewell estimates they have distributed 10,000 over the last decade.

Along with its annual backpack giveaway, BARM also provides food, shelter and other transformative services to impoverished men, women and children each and every day of the year. Learn more about the organization here. To support the nonprofit’s work with a donation, click here.