LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- Back-to-school preparation is often a necessary strain on families who will pay an average of $95 per child this year on school supplies alone, according to the National Retail Federation.
It was for a gracious relief of this financial burden that more than 800 military kids and their families anxiously lined a sidewalk in front of Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, Wash., Aug. 19, to receive free backpacks filled with school supplies.
"Not everyone can afford all these supplies," said Spc. Isabel Acosta, a supply specialist, assigned to the 585th Engineer Company at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. "This helps out a lot. Especially since I have four kids and I'm the only one working."
The backpack distribution was the conclusion of Operation Homefront's "Back-to-School Brigade," which is an annual program that collects donations by the local community through Dollar Tree stores and gives them to qualified military families.
"It shows that there is somebody out there who cares," said Jessica Garner, an Army spouse who received supplies for her son who will be starting kindergarten. "I'm sure there is a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff in there so it was a big stress reliever.
To be qualified to register for a backpack service members had to be active duty, activated Reserve or activated National Guard, with a pay grade of E1 through E6 with school age children entering grades K-12. Some veterans were able to register as well.
The backpack donations not only relieved the financial strain of purchasing school supplies but also alleviated the stress of shopping added Garner.
"It gives them peace of mind and also a good feeling that they are starting off the school year on the right foot," said Stephanie Martinez, manager of the Operation Homefront program in Lakewood.
About 40 volunteers including service members, military families, and other members of the community came out to help pass out donations.
"It's great because I've got to see how much support the community gives for Joint Base Lewis-McChord," said Martinez who is also an elementary school teacher. "It's been amazing to see all the kids and how happy they are."
After receiving backpacks, families were able to go through and pickup additional supplies if they wanted.
"I want to say thank you to all those who helped," said April Brenay after receiving a backpack for her son's first year of school. "This is a blessing for our family. Thank you for getting him excited and wanting to go to school."