BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – It’s that time again! Summer is quickly winding down, so you know what that mean – the Childs Park YMCA, located at 691 43rd St. S., is prepping for its semiannual backpack and school supply giveaway.
This great opportunity will take place Sat., Aug. 16 from 9 -11:00 a.m. As usual, each child who shows up will receive one free backpack loaded with supplies such as a composition book, loose-leaf paper and folders. Basics such as pencils, pens and erasers are also thrown in for all ages.
What makes the backpack and school supply giveaway so unique at Childs Park YMCA is the breakout stations. Depending on whether your child is gearing up for elementary or going into middle or high school, there is a special table set up for everyone.
“We try to get them everything that they need for the first day,” said Executive Director Deborah Figgs-Sanders of the Childs Park YMCA. Twice a year she heads up the supply drive to ensure that local kids are well prepared for school. “I try to do more than just the backpack, to make it as complete as we can.”
Each event Figgs-Sanders holds is a success and this one will be no exception. Vendors and local groups will be on hand offering important information and services to the general public.
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority for instance is set to give out free books to the children in attendance. Amerigroup will also be there along with AKA Sorority ZUO Chapter and others such as the Juvenile Welfare Board who will be there providing information. There is no obligation for families to talk to vendors and whatever services they provide are at no cost to the families as well.
For the kids, there will be face painting; sponsor Tampa Bay Rays is sending along their mascot Raymond to entertain families, and of course, a bouncy house will be on the premises. In addition, Figgs- Sanders is excited that the summer food program will be at the event with free lunches and refreshments for the children.
“The sooner I can serve the families, the better I can get them in and get them out,” said Figgs-Sanders who hopes families will enjoy themselves, but plans to guide them through the process. Her goal is to make it as efficient as possible and prevent families from having to wait in line for long periods in the heat of the day. “Generally we can do 500 backpacks in two hours.”
Figgs-Sanders works tirelessly throughout the year to ensure that each backpack giveaway is a success. She spends countless hours lining up sponsors to donate funds and materials for each event and is overjoyed at the positive response from the community.
“It takes a lot of work, but I definitely don’t mind doing it,” she said absolutely gushing over her major sponsors: the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department, Rays Foundation and Old Navy. “My goal is to keep doing it while I can.”
Since seeing an overwhelming response from corporations and private donors such as County Commissioner Ken Welch, she decided to do something a little different this time around. For families that may have difficulties traveling to the Childs Park YMCA location, two mobile units will be outfitted with some 200 backpacks stuffed full of supplies.
From noon to 1 p.m. on Aug. 16, the Northside Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast, located at 1035 Burlington Ave. N., will have a YMCA bus parked at their location handing out backpacks to residents. Also, the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, located at 2240 9th Ave. S. in Jordan Park, will also have a bus stationed in their lot for those in need of supplies.
Excited about the mobile sites, Figgs-Sanders hopes children will see their bus and show up. “I just wanted to take it outside of the boundaries and move it around,” she said. “Help some of the families that may not have transportation to get to some of the wonderful giveaways.”
But she urges families to get there early and on time. Although there are enough supplies for everyone, “We’ve never run out of backpacks,” the times are set in stone. She said each year there are stragglers and they hate to turn any family away, but with the mobile units set to take off to their locations across the city, the YMCA site will be closing their doors promptly at 11 a.m.
Figgs-Sanders hopes in the future to combine resources with some of the other backpack giveaways throughout the city to help ensure that every family in need is provided for. But for now, she is content with helping out who she can. Her goal this season is to reach 1,000 children.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” she said. “You just have to give and just pray for the best.”
Volunteers are still needed, especially at the mobile sites. Figgs-Sanders asks anyone interested to give her a call at the Childs Park YMCA. You can reach her at 727-209-9622.