MU fraternity’s backpack drive trims back-to-school costs for many families

August 19, 2018
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Keith Brown grabs a backpack for 7-year-old Deanthony Paschall as Marshall University's Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity NuNu chapter gives backpacks to children at the A.D. Lewis Community Center on Friday in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — “I got red,” 5-year-old Tiara Holbrook said. “That’s my favorite color!”

Holbrook, who grinned when asked how excited she was about starting kindergarten at Southside Elementary School, was one of many students who received a free backpack and school supplies from the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity NuNu chapter at Marshall University inside the A.D. Lewis Community Center in Huntington on Friday afternoon.

Back-to-school shopping can be an exciting time for students, but this time of year can often put parents and legal guardians in a tight spot.

Since 2007, the Huntington Bank’s Backpack Index has tracked the cost of classroom supplies and school fees to highlight the burden of school expenses beyond assessed taxes. The index is limited to required supplies and common fees and does not include items such as clothing or electronics.

The index reported that the average cost of school supplies has decreased since the start of the 2017 school year, but families are still spending hundreds,

even thousands, of dollars to send their kids back to school with the right supplies. For the 2018-19 school year, parents can expect to pay $637 per elementary age student, a 4 percent drop from last year, $941 for middle school students, down 6 percent, and a 9 percent decrease in cost, down to $1,355, for high school-age students.

The Alpha Phi Alpha NuNu chapter is doing its part to cut some of those costs leading up to the school year.

“I just like seeing the smiles on kids’ faces, really. Being able to help out the families,” Alpha Phi Alpha brother Ian Fitzpatrick said before handing out the backpacks to a rush of children. “There’s tons of kids that come here that don’t have a lot, and our goal is to make sure that every kid that regularly goes here gets a backpack.”

That means gathering more than a hundred backpacks for the drive each year.

“It’s such a big help,” Holbrook’s grandmother, Sheila Burlile, said while leaving the community center after both of her granddaughters received their backpacks. “This is my first time in 24 years buying school supplies, and getting the backpacks here is a wonderful thing. My girls love coming here throughout the summer.”

This year the fraternity collected approximately 150 backpacks to give away, along with hundreds of dollars’ worth of additional school supplies, but they could not do it alone.

“It’s a community effort,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s less about us directly and more about working with other establishments and having them help out.”

Most notable among the list of contributors is Oklahoma City Thunder forward/center Patrick Patterson, the Huntington High School graduate who hosted a youth basketball camp at HHS less than three weeks ago.

Handing out backpacks gives the fraternity brothers a chance to connect on a personal level with many of the kids; in fact, some kids might have been more excited about the pizza party that came before they received the school supplies.

“You can’t take it too seriously,” Fitzpatrick said. “We try and make jokes with kids, talk with them and ask if they’re ready for school. I used to work here, so I know a lot of them, and it’s real cool to be able to help.”

Follow reporter Luke Creasy at Facebook.com/creasyHD or on Twitter @lewk_creasy.

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