Nothing says back to school like a new backpack, even if goes no farther than the kitchen table.
Children’s eyes lit up by the thousands on Wednesday morning at the Spokane Fair & Expo Center, where the Salvation Army conducted its 11th annual Backpacks for Kids.
Forced by social-distancing requirements to move the event away from its north Spokane headquarters, the Salvation Army found a willing host at the Fairgrounds parking lot, where business was as brisk as the weather.
By noon, hundreds of vehicles had snaked their way past hundreds of volunteers in the biggest drive-thru event in Spokane this year.
Children got the backpack of their choice along with school supplies such as pencils and hygiene products.
The bags also contained information on low-cost resources.
“Some of these kids have never sat in a dentist’s chair before,” Major Ken Perine said.
Parents felt relief even as they pulled out of the parking lot.
“We still need to get some extra stuff, but this is the bulk of what we need,” said Mickinzie Willis, who drove up in an SUV with four children of her own, plus a nephew.
“It means a lot,” Willis said.
Moments later, Amanda Aguilera said she was grateful to get some aid for her three kids.
“The Salvation Army is an amazing resource,” Aguilera said.
Resourceful, too, as Perine and his staff made this happen despite the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 400 volunteers donned masks and gloves and hustled to give out the supplies as cars moved through three lines.
They got help from Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
“The idea is the move people through rapidly,” said Perine, who wishes there was more to give, such as calculators or internet hotspots.
“It’s going to be tough for parents this year, because most have never taught before,” Perine said. “But we just want to make sure that kids stay organized, so that a parent can make that place at home a special place to learn.”
The event was backed by Cenex/Zip Trip, which contributed $31,000 toward backpacks along with a staff of volunteers.
By the end of the day, 3,138 backpacks had been distributed.
Families who needed backpacks but couldn’t attend may pick them up from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday at The Salvation Army’s Family Resource Center at 204 E. Indiana Ave.
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