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'Imagine the smile on their face' | Backpack drive helps Michigan kids

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges for education, especially for families who already have trouble paying for school supplies.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — One of the state's largest faith-based nonprofit health and human services agencies is getting Michigan kids ready for the school year ahead.

Starting Wednesday, July 15, Samaritas will be collecting backpack and school supply donations that will go to children across the state. Those children include New Americans, children in foster care, and those living in homeless shelters and affordable living communities.

Samaritas Chief Operating Officer Kevin Van Den Bosch says while having a new set of school supplies may seem insignificant to adults, it can mean the world to kids.

"When you think about that feeling of belonging and fitting in and first day of school jitters that are already there, this just eliminates one of those for our kids," he said.

"They fit in like everybody else and that’s the message that we want them to have is that they’re important. They’re valuable. That’s why we’re looking for the community to provide this needed resource for them."

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the American economy as a whole, and Van Den Bosch says that impact can often be harder for the people Samaritas serves.

"Our kids already start with very few resources available to them," he said.

"Kids still need the basics in life, and so once families get beyond being able to afford some of those things, a new pair of tennis shoes or a calculator or a new backpack may not be the primary or even the secondary thing that the family can afford."

Because of the pandemic, this year's school supply and backpack drive is virtual. You can pick something out on the organization's Amazon Wish List, or you can make a monetary donation.

If you can't afford to donate to the cause, Samaritas also needs volunteers to organize school supplies and stuff backpacks to be given out to the children.

"We’ll take help in any way," Van Den Bosch said.

"Imagine the face of a little six or seven year old receiving a brand new backpack filled with things for school. Imagine the smile on their face when they get that before school starts. It just takes away some of the butterflies from that first day back to school."

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