HYATTSVILLE – The goal is 10,000 backpacks filled with school supplies before Aug. 26, and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) got a running start on Saturday thanks to the community.
For the first time, PGCPS is hosting a series of Stuff-A-Bus events to gather backpacks and school supplies to hand out to students during their annual Back-to-School Fair, which will be held at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie later this month. The school system has issued a challenge to gather 10,000 backpacks filled with school supplies throughout the four Stuff-A-Bus events held before the fair.
“This isn’t our first Stuff-A-Bus event, but this is our first Stuff-A-Bus geared toward back to school,” said Quon Wilson, a spokesperson for PGCPS. “We have a series of four events that kick off today at the Mall at Prince George’s and we’re soliciting the community, our business partners, our students, faculty and staff to give back in a major way.”
The Mall at Prince George’s was the first stop of the challenge as both mall personnel and PGCPS volunteers organized boxes, tables, banners, beginning of the school year flyers and school bus “selfie stations” to encourage donations on July 29. The event was staged at three different locations within the mall as volunteers passed out flyers telling shoppers where they could buy items to donate.
“It’s all about the kids,” said Victoria Clark, the mall’s marketing director. “Anything we can do to support our young people, I feel we should do it.”
Throughout the event, Clark checked on the stations, took pictures and made special announcements, encouraging mall shoppers to “step up to the plate” and do some good for the children in the county.
And this was not the first time the Mall at Prince George’s teamed up with PGCPS to spread the giving feeling and “do some good” for children in the county school system. Clark said the mall’s relationship goes back “at least 20 years” and has grown over the 10 years she has held the marketing position there.
“We have partnered with them on various levels from the lunchtime concert series, where we showcase the talent of the students within the school system. We have an award winning 12-panel mural that we did in 2012 with over 142 students,” she said. “They have just been a great partner for the many years that we have been here in the community.”
Clark said she loves the shoppers at the mall and had faith they would come out for the event and make donations.
She was not wrong, as donations started piling up moments into the event, which started at 11 a.m. Light showers did not keep donators away and by 12:30 p.m., several of the large cardboard boxes laid out for donations were already nearing half full. The manager at the mall’s Target also donated a $250 gift card to the school system to purchase additional backpacks and supplies.
“The support has been tremendous,” Wilson said. “It’s amazing, just to see the true initiative of the students, especially in the summer. They’re making their way out here. They’re spending their Saturday giving back and that’s what it’s all about.”
Wilson said putting together the Stuff-A-Bus events takes “a ton of work through a true labor of love,” but said the work is worth it to see residents of Prince George’s County give back.
Lauren Cummings and her two sons were among the families lining up to make donations. Logan Skovron, one of Cummings’ sons, is an incoming eighth grade student in Kenmoore Middle School’s autism program. Cummings said Skovron has made great progress at the school, which she appreciates immensely, and said that was one of the reasons she wanted to give back.
“Anytime you feel like you’re getting a lot from a school, you want to be able to help students too. And Logan, like I said, is doing so, so well because of this,” Cummings said.
Learning the value of an education and the costs associated was another reason she took her sons out to not only donate the items, but accompany her in buying them. The family took to local ads to seek out discounts on school supplies and even then, Logan said he was a bit surprised to see the costs.
“Some people can’t really afford these kinds of things,” he said. “It does make me feel pretty fortunate to have an awesome family that has the money for me to have the items I need for school.”
Donating and knowing he could be helping his own classmates made him feel good, he said.
In addition to warm feelings, middle and high school students could also earn service hours through their donations: one hour for every five school supplies donated and two hours for every backpack.
For the challenge, PGCPS is asking for red, blue, yellow or green, new backpacks and a list of supplies that includes wide-ruled composition books, crayons, college-ruled paper, highlighters, rulers, No. 2 pencils, glue sticks and black or blue pens.
“The goal is to support every student. You never want to single out any one child or make anyone to feel less than because of different circumstances,” Wilson said. “The goal is to support all of our children. The backpacks are going to all of our students. It’s just to support everybody and helping our families get ready for the first day of school.”
The Stuff-A-Bus events will continue throughout August as the 10,000 Backpack Challenge continues. The second event was held on Aug. 1 at the Largo Plaza Shopping Center.
The next two events will be on Aug. 5 at the Ivy Youth and Family Center at 6118 Walton Avenue in Suitland and on Aug. 12 at Wegmans on McHugh Drive in Lanham. Both events start at 11 a.m. and end at 3 p.m.
The fun continues at the 7th Annual Back-to-School Fair on Aug. 26 at Prince George’s Stadium, the home of the Bowie Baysox. The event will showcase individual school booths, free immunizations, backpack giveaways and vendors full of information for the new school year, as well as student services. Families must register in advance online to receive a free backpack.