The economy may be in a growth phase but the need for school supplies in Southwest Florida remains constant.
Marking a milestone anniversary Saturday, the 20th Annual Big Backpack Event, sponsored by The Multicultural Centre of Southwest Florida, opened with a crowd of the area’s less fortunate wrapped nearly all the way around the Skatium in Fort Myers. Parents and children waited to receive backpacks filled with notebook paper, crayons, pencils, pens and more school supplies.
“There are 70,000-plus in the free and reduced children’s lunches (in Lee County), said Connie Ramos-Williams, with CONRIC PR & Marketing and the event’s media chair person. “One organization couldn’t provide for all the need.”
While the need has declined from just a few years ago when the economic climate was a bit more chilled, Ramos-Williams said there remains a core that needs help.
Linda Schermerhorn, of Cape Coral, a single parent of three, said providing supplies for the two of her children that are school-aged would have been difficult.
“It gives me a little more money,” she said of the event.
Brittany Miller, of Fort Myers, said she likely could not have afforded much in the way of school needs for her first-grade son especially when the list of requested supplies at some schools includes items to be shared by everyone.
“It’s wrong,” she said. “You have to provide supplies for every (student) at school.”
In 2018, more than 10,000 people were in attendance and more than 2,000 children ages 5 to 12 received backpacks and school supplies. The same number of backpacks were available this year.
“We saw 15,000 years ago and it was a diverse crowd,” she said. “The last few years from 5,000 to 8,000 came out. There are still 2,000 kids, but we see a smaller crowd.”
Marking a milestone anniversary Saturday, the 20th Annual Big Backpack Event, sponsored by The Multicultural Centre of Southwest Florida, opened with a crowd of the area’s less fortunate wrapped nearly all the way around the Skatium in Fort Myers. Parents and children waited to receive backpacks fil
Michael Braun, MBRAUN@NEWS-PRESS.COM
She said there were a little more than 5,000 at this year’s event.
Ramos-Williams pointed to other similar supplies distributions that have sprung up such as that run by the Heights Foundation in south Lee County and another run by the Jevon Kearse Foundation at the STARS Complex in Dunbar.
“Our mission is to promote and embrace diversity in the community and to help Lee County schoolchildren of all cultures start the new school year with confidence and pride,” said Leonardo Garcia, executive director of the Multicultural Centre. “We’re so grateful to the Skatium and everyone who’s made it possible for us to perform a service that’s vital for the future of so many area children.”
Garcia said that with this year’s event about 40,000 Southwest Florida children have been provided school supplies.
For the last several years the event had been held at area schools after a number of years at the Harborside Event Center, currently closed because of construction, Ramos-Williams said,
More: Big Backpack Event provides school supplies for Lee County students
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More: Last year for Big Backpack Event at Harborside venue
“Eventually, once Harborside reopens, we’ll likely go back,” she said. “We’d like to keep it in the city.”
Getting volunteers to work the event has been no issue, she said, with 250 signed up to work and another 200 on a waiting list.
“Our area is extremely generous and extremely compassionate,” said volunteer Carmen Salome, retired executive assistant for the Lee County Board of Commissioners. She was volunteering for the first time, she said.
“I have a heart for the community,” she said. “I wasn’t able to do it in the past.”
A fourth-grade teacher from Lehigh Acres Elementary School, Samantha Youd, said she, too, was making her first-time volunteer appearance.
“I do it to help the community,” she said. “The school I’m at you see more poverty stricken (students). Kids are still coming to school without supplies. You can see them with a lot of pride with the new supplies.”
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno handed out the first backpack, to 6-year-old Bryan Louissaint along with his four brothers and sisters of Fort Myers.
“There’s no greater gift than to see a kid smile when you give them their supplies,” he said.
Among the backers were Neal Communities, which donated nearly $20,000, and 7-Eleven, which gave several thousand dollars worth of supplies.
After receiving their supplies the children, and sometimes their parents or guardians, could also look at commercial displays of supplies and services, get a free haircut, have their faces painted and even have their fingerprints documented by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
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OTHER UPCOMING SCHOOL–RELATED EVENTS IN SWFL
♦10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3. Free family fun day back-to-school event with self-defense and bully-proofing classes; Collier County Sheriff’s Office crime prevention and youth relations with patrol cars, four-wheelers, and kid print ID cards; CORE – coastal off-roading expeditions – will have a trunk-or-treat style school supply give away; and the Naples fire department will have a fire truck there. Also door prizes, video game coding, snow cones, Hovercraft, food truck, face painting, LEGO building, slime making, Edible arrangements and back-to-school haircut discounts American Sports Karate, 2464 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 528, Naples.
♦9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 3. 1,500 backpacks filled with school supplies to elementary and middle school students. Free with more than 40 exhibitor booths, food and drinks provided by Boys and Girls Club of Collier County’s BGCCC Blue Canteen Food Truck and Kona Ice of Naples, games and rock climbing wall. Immokalee High School, 701 Immokalee Dr, Immokalee.
♦10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3. Book bags, school supplies, uniforms, etc. RSVP to Shirley Kearse, (239)745-7716 or Keith White, (239) 935-9595. To donate and contribute, visit @ jevonkearsefoundation.com and click the PayPal link at the bottom of the page. STARS Complex, 2980 Edison Ave. Fort Myers.
♦11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 4 Post 65 Amvets BackToSchool Giveaway. Free school supplies for Pre-K to high school students. SWFL Military Museum and Library, 4820 Leonard St., Cape Coral.
♦ Ongoing through Aug. 12: The Sullivan State Farm agents Dawn and Mike Sullivan are collecting and donating school supplies such as notebooks, pencils, tissues and hand sanitizers. 2708 Santa Barbara Blvd., Cape Coral. 239-541-3276
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