By CRISTINA JANNEY
There is still time to pick up a backpack of school supplies in Hays.
The Backpacks for Kids program, which is sponsored by First Call for Help, handed out backpacks to families who preregistered for the program Thursday.
However, families who did not register can pick up backpacks from 8 a.m. to noon Friday on the south side of the Presbyterian Church, 2900 Hall. Registered families can pick up backpacks until 6 p.m. today at the same location.
Families registered for 318 backpacks this year, which is down from previous years, Schoaff said.
However, First Call packed 777 backpacks to fill the needs for families who may have missed the registration deadline.
If you miss both the distribution days, contact First Call for Help at 785-623-2800.
Ellis County students in grades pre-K through high school, in both public and private schools, whose families are low-income or who have financial hardships are eligible. No proof of income is required to pickup a backpack.
The backpacks are coordinated for gender and grade. Families can also pickup up hygiene packs and masks for their children during the distribution.
Students in all Hays schools, both public and private, will be required to wear masks this school year.
Hygiene packs include a full bottle of shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss and bar of soap. Third graders and older also receive deodorant. The dental items were donated by Delta Dental.
If you did not receive a mask when you picked up your supplies, contact the First Call for Help to arrange to pickup masks for your children. Some families may have been missed early on Thursday morning.
Laura Shoaff, First Call for Help Project coordinator, said COVID-19 limited some of the project's ability to reach families about the program.
Local schools usually send out notes in backpacks about the program, but school was not in session during the spring. The program also diverted some of the funds it usually dedicates to advertising the program to buying supplies because donations were down this year.
However, First Call was able to amass enough supplies to fill all of the backpacks.
First Call for Help modified its distribution process this year, taking in mind COVID-19 precautions. A drive-through system has been set up, and volunteers are wearing masks.
Shoaff said the community was very generous, answering the call to donate hundreds of handmade children's face masks.
The community also stepped up to donate other items, such as wide-ruled notebook paper and colored pencils, which First Call ran short of as the packing process neared completion, Shoaff said.
"I am so excited about the community we live in because we receive so much help from the community. ... I think we are so fortunate to have a welcoming community who cares about each other," Shoaff said.
Eighteen volunteers signed up to help during the two distribution days. A group of Hays High School football players also helped unload the backpacks for First Call for Help.
Quinton McQuire, a HHS sophomore, and Ashton Putz, HHS sophomore, both offered to stay and assist with the backpack distribution.
"Our coach sent out a text yesterday asking for help setting up cones outside," McGuire said. "Then asked if anyone could help today, and I figured I would come out and help the community."
Caitlin Leiker, HHS senior, has been a regular volunteer with First Call for Help. She has helped pack backpacks in past years.
"I wasn't able to participate in the actual giving away of the bags last year," she said, "so I figured I would give it a shot this year. It's been a lot of fun. ...
"It is so awesome to see the kids with those big smiles, and 'Oh, yeah! That's the one I wanted.' That's great. It's a great cause, and I'm glad to be a part of it."
First Call for Help accepts donations of school supplies and monetary donations for the Backpack for Kids program year round. You can find more on the program on First Call for Help's website.
"This is kind of a cool project to get your kids involved in if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford extra school supplies," Shoaff said. "I see a lot of families that have young children, and they will let them pick out a backpack for someone else and they get to pick out the school supplies.
"They will say on it, 'This is for a third grader at O'Loughlin.' The kids get so excited to think someone else is going to get their bag."
The Backpacks for Kids program has been conducted annually in Hays since 1981.