The Salvation Army of Spokane kicked off its annual drive to provide area children with school supplies for the upcoming year Wednesday, with a drive-through twist for supply distribution in August.
The drive, now in its 11th year, collects funds to buy school supplies and backpacks for kids starting kindergarten through 12th grade, said Major Ken Perine of the Salvation Army’s Spokane Citadel Corps. For the past 10 years, the Salvation Army has partnered with local convenience store chain Cenex Zip Trip to allow community members to donate when they make a purchase at a Cenex location.
People can donate supplies rather than funds at the Salvation Army’s Spokane office, or they can donate funds online, Perine said.
Perine said the organization typically spends about $50,000 each year on paper, pens, crayons and composition books to fill the backpacks, which get a different set of supplies based on each grade level. This year, they’re planning to distribute about 4,000 backpacks.
Volunteers would usually hand out the backpacks at the Salvation Army’s Spokane offices in person, letting each child pick out the backpack design they like best, Perine said. But with COVID-19 restrictions in place, they needed to find a bigger space that would allow for better social distancing. This year’s distribution, hosted at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center on Aug. 12, will be drive-through style instead.
“But kids will still get to pick the backpack they like best, they’ll just be pointing at it from the window,” Perine said.
The distribution is usually held in conjunction with a vendor fair, with rows of booths and local businesses handing out small items. Perine said that wouldn’t be possible this year, but each family will get a bag with some pre-selected items from vendors when they pick up their backpacks instead.
Danna Holling, retail operations manager for Cenex Zip Trip, said the chain’s employees, who usually help hand out backpacks, will miss the in-person experience this year. But Holling said she was grateful to still be able to help the Salvation Army provide for the community’s children through such difficult circumstances.
Cenex, like past years, will offer a coupon for a free 20-ounce coffee or soda when customers donate to the drive-through the month of July. The only thing that will be different, Holling said, is that Cenex didn’t set a goal for fundraising this year.
“We usually set a goal every year that’s a little higher than the last,” Holling said. “But we recognize times are tough, so if you can’t donate, you can’t donate. The goal is just to raise as much as possible for the cause.”
Over the 10 years Cenex has partnered with the Salvation Army, Holling estimated they’ve helped raise over $400,000.
There are no criteria to qualify for a free backpack through the drive, Perine said. With the Salvation Army’s food bank and other financial support programs experiencing higher demand than ever, Perine said the goal was simply to help make sure kids had a strong start to the upcoming school year no matter what.
“We can all agree we want our kids to succeed, and to do that they need a strong start to the year with all the supplies they need,” Perine said. “That’s just what the backpacks do.”
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