On the hottest day of the year, 5-year-old Colton West was feeling cool with his new backpack.
It was blue – “because I like blue” – with bright green dinosaurs for contrast.
Colton wore it with a smile, one that he’s likely to wear all the way to the first day of kindergarten.
That’s only four weeks away, which made Wednesday the perfect occasion for the Backpacks for Kids event at the Salvation Army center in north Spokane.
This one was even more special, it was the 10th year that the annual event, which makes a difference for thousands of families in Spokane, has been held.
By the time it began at 8 a.m., the line of families snaked around the building almost to Ruby Street, a distance of three blocks.
Inside were 5,000 backpacks, all stuffed with pencils and paper – and dreams for a brighter future for struggling families.
“This is really special,” said Colton’s mother, Jody West, who held him by the hand while balancing two more backpacks and other supplies meant for two older children back home.
By noon, most of them were sweating in temperatures that eventually neared 100. However, the West family won’t be sweating about how to pay for backpacks and supplies.
Altogether, the West family saved about $100 thanks to the Salvation Army, its sponsors and hundreds of volunteers.
“This makes a huge difference in our expenses, especially with three kids,” said West, whose family has benefited from eight of the 10 Salvation Army events.
Nearby, Heather Hills and her four children felt like a weight was lifted off their shoulders, their backpacks notwithstanding.
Next month, daughter Paige will walk into her second-grade class with a bright pink backpack and a perhaps a brighter outlook on learning.
“I like it ’cause it looks cool,” said Paige, while her mom said she likes the way it will look on the family budget.
“It’s much appreciated and it makes a big difference,” Heather Hills said.
For that, the man in charge, Salvation Army Major Ken Perine, thanked the hundreds of volunteers and sponsors – especially Cenex Zip Trip, which raised most of the $55,000 backpack fund by promoting in-store donations.
The backpacks aren’t bottom-line, Perine explained. Months in advance, the Salvation Army tests backpacks before settling on a supplier, ensuring they can withstand the large amount of books kids throw in them, and activities they might be brought to.
“Kids like to open their backpacks like an envelope, which isn’t the best thing for the zipper,” said Perine.
The volunteers hit their stride Tuesday night, when they turned a room full of boxes into neatly arranged piles of backpacks, complete with appropriate supplies for each grade level for the school year. The Salvation Army Spokane meets with the district to get lists for each grade, K-12.
Kids got more than backpacks. A community fair included 25 agencies that provide information about health care, housing and other resources.
Some children even got haircuts, while two food trucks served lunch outside the building.
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