NEW PORT RICHEY —Youngsters across Pasco County have one less thing to worry about as they head back to school this week: school supplies.
Volunteers led by Debi Shackowsky set a record by filling 658 backpacks.
Meanwhile, Kiwanis Club of Greater West Pasco and Gulfside Hospice Thrift Shoppes teamed up to give students at eight elementary schools backpacks full of pencils, crayons, notebooks and other school supplies.
Earlier this month, 106 volunteers assembled 658 backpacks at Hudson High School to donate to children in need, Shackowsky reports. She leads the Bunco for Backpacks campaign.
It took 12 vehicles and 27 volunteers to transport all the supplies. Filling the backpacks required two evenings and coordinating 106 volunteers.
“Although I have been privately donating school supplies and backpacks to children in need for the past 18 years,” Shackowsky wrote in an email reply, “never did I ever imagine the backpack donations would grow to this year’s 658 filled backpacks.”
Three years ago, she donated 99 backpacks. Then her cellphone rang for days with pleas from others for still more backpacks.
The next year, she branched out with the fundraising event Bunco for Backpacks that provided funds for 265 backpacks. Last year, 446 backpacks were donated.
“Sometimes it’s the simple things that have the biggest impact,” Shackowsky said in her summary to volunteers. “For kids who struggle, the basic necessities make all the difference in helping to raise self-esteem, raise grades, and raise hope.”
Financial and in-kind business contributors this year included Trinity Rotary; Target Superstore 2209; Friendly Kia; Ear, Nose and Throat Associates; Digital Lightbridge; Capstone Insurance; Lakeview Family Dentistry; dentist Scott Griffith and Entenmann’s Outlet Store.
Agencies that assisted included African American Club, Foster Care, Guardian ad Litem, PACE School for Girls, Pasco County Sheriff’s Office School Resource Office and RAP House.
The backpacks were delivered to 11 elementary schools — Anclote, Calusa, Chasco, Cotee River, Cypress, Fox Hollow, Hudson, Lacoochee, Northwest, Sunray and Lake Myrtle. Middle schools Bayonet Point, Paul R. Smith and River Ridge also received some. The rest were bound for three high schools — Gulf, Hudson and River Ridge.
In the meantime, the Kiwanis campaign filled 250 backpacks for students. This year is the fourth time that Gulfside partnered with Kiwanis. Gulfside’s five thrift shoppes promoted the school supply drive July 15 through Aug. 5.
One of the eight recipient schools was Cotee River Elementary School, in New Port Richey.
“We have a lot of needy families, and these backpacks and school supplies make it a little bit easier for some of the students when school starts back,” guidance counselor Maria Schiro told the benefactors.
Other schools that got aid were Mittye P. Locke, Sunray, Moon Lake, Gulfside and Northwest elementary schools in West Pasco, as well as two East Pasco grade schools. Backpacks were also donated to Healthy Families.
“We are so grateful and overwhelmed by the wonderful donations that the community gave,” Linda Ward, Gulfside’s president and CEO, said in a press release.