OCEAN PARK — Last week, volunteers helped more than 400 Pacific County children and their families get ready to go back to school.
The organizers behind the Pack2School event, which took place at the Peninsula Baptist Church in Ocean Park Aug. 21, spent approximately $10,000 on school supplies and backpacks this year. An “army of volunteers” organized and packaged these supplies by grade and by school, serving 192 families and 410 children.
“We all leave there higher than kites,” said volunteer Gail Baer. “It’s an exhilarating thing. It’s exhilarating all the way through it. It’s watching the community come together.”
The event is designed to serve families in need, families who may struggle to afford school supplies for their children.
“It’s a big need down here and we had a lot of community support,” said organizer Gloria Buck.
Her husband, and fellow organizer, Bill Buck sees it as more than just a help to parents, though. It also helps teachers, too, he said.
“This way kids start off the school year with all the necessary tools,” he explained. “Of course, the long-term goal is to break this cycle of poverty on the Peninsula and the best way to do that is through education.”
Overall, more than half of the students enrolled in the Ocean Beach School District qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, and that number is higher in individual schools like Ocean Park Elementary.
So for the last three years, the Pack2School group has received a list of supplies students need for the year, broken down by grade level and school, from the Ocean Beach School District. Once the list is in hand, volunteers go out to raise money and fulfill that list.
“Communities on both sides of the river have stepped up to help provide those supplies,” Baer said.
The group raises money or gets commitments from other groups and businesses and buys all the supplies. They buy backpacks in quantities of 300, wholesale from stores, Bill Buck said. At that rate, the average backpack may only cost the group about $7 — much less than what a family might have to spend if they were buying the supplies themselves, even if the backpack were on sale.
The volunteers don’t discriminate: any family who shows up is offered help and the kids can pick out a backpack. The Pack2School event also serves some families from the Naselle area, though it doesn’t have the funding to provide supplies for those in need in that entire district.
The actual Pack2School event involves more than just picking out supplies, however. Over the last couple of years, it has also included a mini-carnival (funded by the Peninsula Baptist Church) and a free lunch. This year, organizers also brought in service groups such as Wellspring, WIC (a state food and nutrition service), the Department of Health and Human Services, Families Helping Families and the library.
After three years, the Bucks feel the event is just about where it needs to be and, certainly, it has never gone smoother than it did this year. They had the most volunteers they’ve ever had, and have learned better how to organize and find supplies. They still hope to one day be able to provide free haircuts.
“But that’s somewhere down the line,” Bill said. “We only have so much room and so many volunteers.”
With the event only a week behind them, the Bucks and others already beginning to raise funds for next year. For more information, contact Bill and Gloria Buck at 360-665-2327. Peninsula Baptist Church mantains a separate bank account for Pack2School. Donations may be sent, care of the church, to PO Box 509, Ocean Park, WA, 98640.