Maggie Aguilar could not wait to try on her new backpack on Wednesday.
“I picked this one out because of the blue,” the 8-year-old third-grader-to-be said, referencing the various shades of blue that made a chevron pattern on her bag.
Maggie and her little brother, Emmanuel, 7, were just some of the children that were given backpacks and school supplies during the annual backpack distribution at Garfield Early Childhood Center.
Backpacks filled with school supplies are given out annually to local children and teens who are in need.
Backpacks were purchased with monetary donations given last month through the Stuff the Bus event, as did the school supplies. The event featured school buses set up at various local stores where people could donate school supplies.
The event is a collaborative effort of various local agencies, including the Finney County United Way, Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Salvation Army, Genesis Family Health, and LiveWell Finney County.
Susan Escareno, Finney County United Way executive director, said about 1,500 backpacks were expected to be distributed.
“That’s what we did last year, so that’s what we planned for today (Wednesday),” she said.
In order to receive a free backpack and school supplies, parents had to show proof their children are on free or reduced lunch, proof of income, or proof they qualify for the SNAP program (food stamps), according to Escareno.
“In our district, over 70 percent of our kids qualify for free or reduced lunches, so we know we have a high poverty level,” Escareno said. “We know that funding has been cut to our teachers, and a lot of our teachers use their own money on supplies, so this will not only help our families, but the teachers who buy those extra supplies for students.”
Along the walls of the school’s gymnasium, tables representing the different preschool, elementary, middle and high school grade levels were stacked with backpacks. Volunteers grabbed school supplies from behind the tables and placed them in the backpacks before handing them out.
Nubia Cardenas attended the backpack distribution to pick up backpacks for five of her six children. She said it helps out her family significantly.
“School supplies, they get pretty expensive, especially when you have have five in school. Plus they have enrollment fees,” Cardenas said.
Cardenas and her family moved to Garden City from Kansas City two years ago and have attended the distribution each year.
Cardenas said she thinks it’s important to host events to help families in need for any reason, like being a single parent like she is.
“I appreciate that they have it every year,” she said.
After receiving backpacks, parents also had the chance to see what vaccinations their children would need for school and could receive immunization vouchers if needed provided by Genesis Family Health. Genesis also provided free dental screenings and fluoride treatments with parental consent.
KanCare had a table for parents to sign their children up for insurance, Escareno said.
Wednesday was the only day for backpack distribution, but if there are backpacks or school supplies left over, they will be taken at a yet-to-be-announced location for families to pick up, Escareno said.
Escareno noted that anyone wanting to inquire about additional backpacks or school supplies can contact United Way, the Salvation Army or Genesis.
“It’s a very fulfilling event,” Escareno said of the backpack distribution. “It’s a lot of planning before we get to this day, but when we get to this day, we know all of those hours were very worthwhile.”