Giving every student a good start

Rotary backpack program brings smiles and needed supplies to local kids

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Every year when children return to school, most look forward to the routine of a buying a new backpack and school supplies.

But for some, especially since the economy has declined, it is a routine to be dreaded.

While their classmates compare new backpacks and school supplies, kids who are not as fortunate avoid the traditional rite of passage.

That’s where the Camas-Washougal Rotary backpack program comes in. Every fall, club members distribute the backpacks to more than 100 students at the start of school.

Retired attorney David Bussman serves on the vocational services committee for Rotary.

“I like helping kids get ready for (and excited about) school,” he said. “By giving them high quality backpacks, we avert one big back to school purchase for this year and next, at least.”

The club received a grant from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney this year, and a donation of 101 backpacks from Yak Pak, to go with the budgeted $1,000 members had raised. The total effort for this year and next was $5,230.

Each backpack contains lined, colored pencils, lead pencils, two pencil erasers, and a pair of age appropriate scissors.

Backpacks are provided to local school districts, which distribute them to individual schools, based on needs of the students. These go to students in first- through eighth-grades, and usually those identified by their teachers as particularly being in need.

Accumulating the packs takes about a week and filling them with supplies takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

Packs are then loaded into vehicles and distributed the next day to individual schools, a process that takes one to two hours.

“Sheer delight and gratitude are the most common responses,” Bussman said. “Tears have been shed on occasion.”

Washougal received 100 packs on Sept. 1 and Camas had 100 packs delivered on Sept. 8, shortly after the school year began for students.

“Last year the club distributed 150 backpacks,” Bussman said. “This year the need was greater, so we set the bar higher, and they were all needed.”

New Washougal School District Superintendent Dawn Tarzian accompanied Rotary members as they distributed backpacks.

“I can’t tell you how much this means to the school district,” she said. “It is a challenge for many families, especially in these difficult financial times, to make ends meet. Back-to-school brings all kinds of expenses from clothes, to fees, new childcare expenses for some, lunch boxes, health insurance, etc.”