PARKERSBURG - As the new school year approaches, a new version of a longtime program continues providing backpacks for students who need assistance.
The United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley is in its second year of coordinating the backpack program, which was started about 20 years ago by a community service group at one of the local plants, said Leslie Pittinger, administrative assistant with the United Way.
When the GE Volunteers, previously GE ELFUNS, could no longer continue the program it started in 1991, the United Way took over the backpack giveaway and expanded it. For many years, the program involved volunteers filling donated backpacks with donated supplies for distribution over a four-county area.
Pam Salvage, left, a board member for the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, and Leslie Pittinger, the agency’s administrative assistant, work Friday to sort donated school supplies and backpacks for distribution to nine area counties. (Photo by Wayne Towner)
In a change this year, the United Way has been collecting and sorting materials at its office in Vienna. Once everything is ready, the agency will contact the school systems participating in the program and they will come and pick up the materials for distribution to students who need them in their districts, Pittinger said.
"We found that a lot of the teachers and the administrators said a lot of kids can make it to school with a backpack; it's the nuts and bolts - the pencils, the pens, the paper - that they don't always have enough of. We are supplying those items to the schools," she said.
While the focus is now on providing supplies, the giveaway still includes backpacks. Pittinger said The Ross Foundation donated funding for 750 backpacks, which will be divided among the participating districts.
Under United Way operation, the program has expanded to serve all nine counties served by the Alliance, she said. Those are Calhoun, Jackson, Pleasants, Tyler, Ritchie, Roane, Wirt and Wood counties in West Virginia and the Belpre City Schools District and Little Hocking Elementary School in Washington County, Ohio.
The expansion has required an increase in the amount of materials collected, Pittinger said. The United Way donated more than 1,000 backpacks last year during its first year operating the program. Along with the 750 backpacks this year, United Way will be increasing the amount of supplies, hoping to serve 1,500 additional children with the extra supplies, she said.
Pittinger said the sorting work at the United Way office should be finished by Monday or Tuesday. The school districts should have the supplies by mid-week and then will be responsible for getting them to students who need them, she said.
In addition to the Ross Foundation and the United Way Alliance, other sponsors and donors for this year's program are West Virginia University at Parkersburg, Belpre Area Ministries, Community Bank, Kraton Polymers, WesBanco, United Bank, Office Depot and area individuals.