Churches Provide Financial Relief With Back-to-School Backpack Campaigns

Churches participating in back-to-school backpack giveaway campaigns that provide notebooks, paper, and pens to children in need are delivering financial relief to families at no better time.

Heading into the fall, school supplies cost 25 percent more than last year, according to the 2011 Huntington Backpack Index issued by Huntington Bank in late July. The report shows the largest annual increase in the index’s six-year history.

From New Kensington, Pa., to San Clemente, Calif., the nation’s churches have ratcheted up their back-to-school help for families hit especially hard in the pocket book this year. In what has become an annual tradition for many churches, just one campaign can provide hundreds of children with much needed school supplies.

With the help of members from Saddleback Church’s San Clemente campus, Cooper Zediker, 13, took the church-wide “Operation Backpack” campaign and tailored it into a personal Eagle Scout project. Combined with the South Orange County church’s military family ministry, Zediker has been collecting backpacks and school supplies for children of families stationed at neighboring Marine Corp Base Camp Pendleton.

His goal: to provide filled backpacks to 800 children attending San Onofre Elementary School located inside the military base.

Zediker was provided with the backpacks from the church’s main campus in Lake Forest. For the last several Sundays he has sold the backpacks for $5 each to those attending the satellite church, which temporarily holds services at San Clemente High School. Purchasers of the backpacks were instructed to fill them with items such as construction paper, No. 2 pencils, erasers, folders, and writing paper.

Campaign participants then bring the filled backpacks to church.

“As of right now, I have only 36 (backpacks) left with a meeting tomorrow to hopefully sell the rest,” Zediker said. “If not, I have a church member willing to buy and fill the remaining packs I don't sell. So by Sunday, all will be sold.”

Saddleback Church San Clemente Pastor Scott Hitzel said that although the nation’s slumping economy is having an impact on everyone, he hopes that the backpack giveaway will be an example of the congregation’s concern for others.

“I want it impossible to not notice the way the San Clemente campus cares for our community and stands with our Marines," Hitzel said. "The most gratifying part of this backpack drive, beyond the smile of the kids receiving a backpack and the members putting them together, is to realize some of these families will come and check out the church and see why we would get so involved."

In western Pennsylvania, Huntington Bank is working with the Salvation Army to hand out 1,000 backpacks in the area. Up to 100 backpacks will be handed out from the Salvation Army’s worship and service center in New Kensington next week, according to the Valley News Dispatch.

Retailer Big Lots donated the backpacks' contents and the packs were sold at a discounted rate.

"It is a big help, definitely," said one area resident, who told the Dispatch the two backpacks she received were for her sons. "I was laid off and just getting back to work. They need everything. This is a great big help for me."