Penn Hills woman collecting, donating backpacks filled with school supplies

August 3, 2018
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A poster advertising Jessica Gentile’s backpack and school supplies drive in August 2017.

When Jessica Gentile set out to equip school-age children with backpacks stuffed with school supplies, she started with a goal of 25.

But when the community caught wind of her efforts, that number quickly grew.

“It was just a small idea but when I reached out to local businesses, so many said they wanted to donate to the cause,” said Gentile, 29, of Penn Hills. Around 300 backpacks filled with school supplies later, “it became a big thing.”

This year, Gentile is aiming even higher. She’s hoping to distribute 400 backpacks at this year’s giveaway, set to take place from 2 to 5 p.m. Aug. 11, at Faith Community Church, 501 Jefferson Road. Gentile said there will be face painting and other activities for children, food and drinks and a raffle.

“I definitely want to beat last year,” she said.

Gentile has three children, two of whom attend school in Penn Hills. The third is a toddler.

“School supplies are expensive. I know a lot of people struggle to buy them,” Gentile said.

The first collection was such a success that local nonprofit Bring Out the Best Project offered to help, Gentile said. The organization will provide volunteers to help with the event in addition to donating backpacks and supplies.

“Whatever she needs,” said Shawn O’Mahony, BOB Project founder. O’Mahony said Gentile is part of the organization’s newly formed junior board, an arm of the nonprofit aimed at equipping young people who are already involved in community service.

“We’re always looking for young people who are doing good things in the community, and Jessica really stood out,” he said.

Residents interested in donating backpacks filled with school supplies for children age 13 and younger have until Aug. 10 to drop items off at one of two locations: Pep Boys at 3475 William Penn Highway, or S&T Bank at 12262 Frankstown Road.

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