SOUTHINGTON — Katelyn Miller had a huge smile on her face Monday afternoon as she held on tight to her new “My Little Pony” lunch box while sporting her new “Dora the Explorer” backpack outside Derynoski School.
Katelyn, a first-grader at Plantsville School, along with her sister Zoe Miller, a fifth-grader, picked out free backpacks filled with school supplies as part of the backpack giveaway hosted by the Giving Back Girls. The first day of school is Thursday.
“I think it’s great,” said Melissa Buldoc, Zoe and Katelyn’s stepmother. “We have five kids so it’s really helpful.”
Nearly 300 backpacks lined the walls in the auditorium lobby at Derynoski School. Parents were able to sign up for the free backpacks in advance and were put on a list that members of the Giving Back Girls checked off as they came in. Last year the Giving Back Girls, a group that raises money for different programs in town, filled nearly 300 bags.
By 9:30 a.m. the line for the backpack giveaway was out the door and wrapped around the side of the building.
The town has been participating in the backpack giveaway for years before it was taken over by the Giving Back Girls in 2010.
Pens, pencils, notebooks, binders, and other school supplies filled the backpacks. Parents were also handed a $25 gift card to Wal-Mart for each child that was signed up for the program.
“It depends on the grade and we try to go by the school list as much as possible,” said Tricia Gibney – the mother of two of the girls, Erin and Emily, that started the Giving Back Girls. “In high school they need a five-subject notebook, five to seven folders, sticky notes, pencils, pens, highlighters; the higher the grade the more supplies you need.”
Backpacks featured an assortment of designs and characters like Minnie Mouse and Spider-Man.
“What grade are you going into?” said Gibney as she looked down at Joseph Mettica.
“Kindergarten,” answered Joseph.
“Come over here and pick,” Gibney said pointing to a line of backpacks labeled for kindergarten boys.
Joseph, who was there with his father Robert Mettica, quickly picked up a Mario Brothers backpack and slung it over his shoulder with a smile on his face.
“I love that we get to help people and the look on the kids’ faces when they get a backpack that they really want, you can’t see that all the time,” said Erin Gibney, one of the founders of Giving Back Girls and a sophomore at Southington High School.
Filling the backpacks took quite some time, she added. About 30 girls are members of the group and many tried to get together during the summer to fill the backpacks. Many of the items came from a “Fill That Bus” challenge this summer.
The girls got together about 10 times and spent nearly three hours sorting materials.
For people like Arlene Paige, who shops for five of her grandchildren, the backpack giveaway is essential. She has been coming for the past four years.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Paige said. “I don’t know what I would do without them. I’m out of work this year.”
Besides just the backpacks, the Giving Back Girls were also handing out lunch boxes, books, and knit hats made by Maggie Wernicki’s grandmother and aunt. Maggie, a third-grader at Plantsville School, is in her second year with the Giving Back Girls and it was her first year helping pass out the backpacks.
“I really like helping out my community,” Maggie said. “It’s one of my hobbies I have.”