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Kina Aikau, 7, center, checks out the contents of the new backpack she received from the Spokane Salvation Army on Thursday. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Kina Aikau, 7, center, checks out the contents of the new backpack she received from the Spokane Salvation Army on Thursday. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Head start in the bag

Thousands of kids get equipped for school

Santana McCullough was quiet but deliberate as he pushed aside the red and blue backpacks for one in olive green during the Salvation Army’s Backpacks for Kids event.

The bashful 6-year-old unleashed a smile when he looked inside his new pack: “Oh! Scissors, markers, crayons and a box.” Still smiling, the 3-foot-tall Spokane boy headed for the door and slung the pack over his shoulder. “This is big,” he said.

Parents with kids in tow started lining up at 5 a.m. outside Spokane’s Salvation Army. When the doors opened at 8 a.m., the line wrapped around the entire city block. The charitable organization was prepared with 3,500 backpacks to distribute – the largest number since starting the school-supplies giveaway 10 years ago.

By 3 p.m., more than 2,700 backpacks filled with age-appropriate back-to-school essentials already had been handed out.

“I think most of these kids would have gone to school with no school supplies or very minimal,” said Salvation Army Capt. Kyle Smith. “Kids are proud to show me backpacks. If you have a nice backpack, you’re going to fit in.”

Volunteers helping kindergartners through second-graders said the youngsters were quiet, but words were perhaps unnecessary.

“Their faces are priceless,” said Austin Henry, a volunteer. Jessica Hough, another volunteer, added, “They’re just so excited to have a backpack of their own. A lot of the girls are picking pink and purple. The boys are picking red and blue.”

While children showed pride and glee, parents and grandparents showered volunteers and Salvation Army staff with gratitude.

“A lot of parents are saying ‘Thank you, we couldn’t have done this,’ ” said Hough.

Spokane mom Jenny Berg waited in line for about 40 minutes Thursday with three of her six children. It was her first time going to the backpack giveaway.

“Only my husband is working right now, so this really helps,” Berg said.

Heather Byrd, Salvation Army spokeswoman, said, “People assume the people who come in here are homeless, but often it’s people who are just trying to get by.”

Families flowed steadily through the organization throughout the distribution.

“We couldn’t have done this without Cenex Zip Trip, from the business side,” said Byrd. The company raised more than $25,000 for the program by offering free coffee or soda to customers who made donations.

“But really, it’s all the people in the community too.”

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