POCATELLO — About 6,000 people filtered through the Mountain View Event Center on Saturday for the annual Back 2 School Giveaway.
According to Joshua Robinson, the event director, many people even camped out the night before to avoid the long lines at the event, where families received free backpacks, school supplies, clothing and groceries.
“By 5 a.m. we had a couple thousand people out there,” Robinson said. “It was one of our biggest years yet. We added plenty of new sponsors that we’ve never had before that I think were great.”
Robinson said they also had more volunteers than ever this year, with easily 300 people donating their time.
Jamie Aubrey, the co-director specializing in the school supplies, said the event has gotten much bigger since its beginning in 2007.
“Every year it has grown,” Aubrey said. “Every year we add a new service. We feed (attendees) lunch, we send them home with food boxes, and by the time they leave, they have had a great time.”
The thousands of students attending the event had the opportunity to pick out a backpack and other school supplies in addition to clothing if they needed it. There were also boxes of food donated by Smith’s Food & Drug Stores and put together by the Idaho Foodbank.
Aubrey said it was important to the event organizers to have a variety of supplies.
“We have always wanted it to be a shopping experience,” she said. “The kids get to choose their backpack. They get to choose their scissor color and folder color because when they get to choose it, they own it. And it’s less like a hand out than it is a hand up.”
The supplies for the event are both purchased online with monetary donations and donated by local stores, such as Big Lots.
As a sixth-grade teacher at the Connor Academy Public Charter School, Aubrey said she has seen firsthand the need for this event in the community.
“One of the saddest things I’ve ever seen as a teacher is a student walking into school with a Walmart bag that contains one ream of paper, one pencil and one pen because mom and dad just didn’t have the money to buy a backpack,” Aubrey said. “And there should be absolutely no judgement there. It’s just heartbreaking to me as a teacher.”
Anyone in need can attend the event, and there are no qualifications or income checks. According to Aubrey, the only rule is that the child must be present.
John Martin, a parent of one seventh-grade student and one eighth-grade student, said he attended the event for the first time this year after hearing about it on the news.
“You can go to Walmart or the Dollar Tree and things like that, but when you have two or three or four kids, it still gets pretty expensive,” Martin said. “So something like this, when you have multiple children in the family, it helps out a lot.”
In prior years, Martin said he has easily spent $100 per child on school supplies, particularly in recent years as supply lists have expanded.
And though he said he understands the need for items such as hand sanitizer, the lengthy lists can be “kind of overwhelming.”
Aubrey said if you look at a school supply list, they are long.
“If we’re struggling as a community to put food on our table and clothes on our kids’ backs, these parents in our community have to set priorities,” Aubrey said.
Martin agreed that by receiving school necessities free of cost, he had more flexibility to provide his children with other items.
“This doesn’t take care of everything they need, but it does take care of the essentials,” he said. “And then there’s money left over for the more expensive calculators or laptops if they need them.”
Robinson and Aubrey both stressed that the event would not have grown this big, or be possible at all, without the help from local businesses and community members.
“This event only survives for two reasons,” Robinson said. “50 percent of it is businesses, and the other half is churches and individuals. We had Christian churches, LDS churches, Catholic churches, all working hand in hand. And that’s pretty cool.”
Aubrey said she was overwhelmed at the support the event has received over the years.
“This started with 125 backpacks,” she said. “And now we’re up to over 1,500. And it wouldn’t have happened without our phenomenal community.”