Big just got bigger as Community Cooperative and Blessings in a Backpack of Southwest Florida join The Multicultural Centre of Southwest Florida to provide backpacks, school supplies and food to Lee County children during the 21st annual Big Backpack Event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, July 26 at the Fort Myers Skatium, located at 2250 Broadway.
Understanding the greater needs of Lee County families this year, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Multicultural Centre of Southwest Florida reached out to its friends at Community Cooperative and Blessings in a Backpack of Southwest Florida with a request to collaborate and combine resources in order to make an even bigger impact to support struggling students and families. Both organizations stepped up without hesitation.
Each family that comes through the carline to receive free backpacks for their children ages 5 to 12 will also receive a grocery bag full of kid-friendly food such as peanut butter, jelly, pop tarts, box of oatmeal packets, macaroni and cheese, tuna, SpaghettiOs, pasta and spaghetti sauce thanks to the generosity of Community Cooperative. “We are excited to partner with The Multicultural Centre of Southwest Florida at this year’s Big Backpack Event to provide a little bit of hope through offering kid friendly groceries as children and their parents get ready for the new school year,” says Stefanie Ink Edwards, Community Cooperative Chief Development & Operating Officer.
Blessings in a Backpack of Southwest Florida stepped up to donate a pallette of school supplies for 1,500 of the 2,000 students being served. Cecilia St. Arnold, Executive Director of Blessings in a Backpack SWFL says, “This is our first year participating in this community outreach event and we look forward to handing out school kits donated to us by the Kids in Need Foundation to support and help families in need.”
Because every precaution is being taken to protect families and volunteers, this will be a drive-thru curbside event at the Skatium. Families will remain in their vehicles, stop at designated locations and volunteers will load backpacks full of school supplies and other giveaways, as well as a grocery bag full of food into each family’s trunk. Volunteers will be wearing gloves and masks as they load items in vehicles in order to maintain safety for all.
“Multicultural Centre of Southwest Florida feels fortunate to work with these incredible local organizations that share our same goal of serving families and children in need,” says Leonardo Garcia, Executive Director of the Multicultural Centre of Southwest Florida.
Since early March, the coronavirus pandemic has created monumental hardships on families making the cost of back-to-school supplies and food an overwhelming burden. Event organizers with The Multicultural Centre of Southwest Florida were determined to move forward with this event and are grateful for the partnership with Community Cooperative and Blessings in a Backpack of Southwest Florida.
“The thought of having to cancel The BIG Backpack Event at a time when unemployment is high and families are in crisis weighed heavily on our hearts,” says event public relations and marketing chair Connie Ramos-Williams, president of CONRIC PR & Marketing. “We are excited to collaborate with the City of Fort Myers, business sponsors and other nonprofits to make this curbside back-to-school celebration and giveaway a reality.”
No event activities will be held inside the Skatium and no parking will be permitted. Families who arrive by bus or on foot will be able receive backpacks for their children in a designated area clearly marked that will provide social distancing of six feet between each family. Masks are required.
Tim Oak, SWFL regional president for Neal Communities, the presenting sponsor of the event, praised organizers for their efforts. “What you are doing has always been needed and this year even more so,” Oak said. “Thank you for helping the children in our community.
Nearly 40,000 backpacks have been distributed to families over the event’s 20-year history. An estimated 80 percent of Lee County children currently qualify for free or reduced meal programs at their schools and that was prior to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sponsors for this year’s event include Neal Communities, WINK, Comcast, Blessings in a Backpack of Southwest Florida, Community Cooperative, News-Press, WellCare Children’s Medical Services Health Plan, CONRIC PR & Marketing, Lee County Family News, Lee County School District, Fort Myers Police Department, City of Fort Myers, Fort Myers Skatium, Lee County Sheriff’s Office and The Faith Center.