POCATELLO — An annual back-to-school event where local families in need come to get free school supplies and clothing while enjoying a carnival atmosphere has been scaled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Organizers of the nonprofit Back 2 School Giveaway still plan to donate new backpacks filled with school supplies for School District 25 to distribute to students whose families have fallen upon tough times.
Josh Robinson, the organization’s director, is seeking donations from businesses, organizations, churches and individuals toward the backpacks and supplies.
The back-to-school celebration had been planned for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 16, with families expected to come to the Mountain View Event Center to pick out school supplies and clothing before heading to the outdoor party on the grounds of Grace Lutheran Schools. Last year’s event drew about 5,500 people.
“This year we looked at everything. There’s really no safe way to do the event as we’ve done it in past years,” Robinson said.
A local church started the giveaway in 2007. In 2010, a separate nonprofit organization formed to spearhead the event, which has continued to grow and evolve.
At past events, Robinson said guests have each been given a shopping bag to fill with lightly-used clothing, with tables organized by age and gender for infants, children and adults. School-aged children have also been allowed to pick out their favorite backpack and supplies. He said participants have relished the chance to “shop” as a family, with volunteers from participating businesses and groups staffing tables.
A couple of members of Back 2 School Giveaway are tasked with soliciting clothing donations from willing businesses, churches and organizations. Clothing collected for this summer will remain in storage until the COVID-19 crisis has passed and the full celebration can resume.
During past Back 2 School Giveaway parties, McDonald’s and other local businesses have given away free food and drinks. Bouncy houses, obstacle courses, games and face painting have been available, with Home Depot staff helping kids assemble activity kits inside of a circus tent.
Organizations such as Pocatello Children’s Clinic, Marshall Public Library and Southeastern Idaho Community Action Agency have sent representatives.
Free eye exams have been provided by a local optometrist, and a general practice physician has answered health questions and made referrals to area health care services for people on limited incomes. The Idaho Foodbank has given away food boxes. Local police officers and firefighters have educated children about safety.
Rather than waiting in line for a handout, Robinson said families enjoyed a “massive celebration of going back to school.”
“The goal is for the little kids to feel this is a fun experience for them and for the parents to genuinely feel like the businesses in town are feeling love for them,” Robinson said.
Robinson said the crowd size was simply too large to host the event as usual amid a pandemic, and he worried about the potential COVID-19 transmission risk from people handling clothing and returning it to tables.
The event typically receives $25,000 in donations from 70 to 90 local businesses.
Robinson said the backpacks will be filled with a good portion of the supplies needed for students in each grade. He also plans to slip in promotional coupons from certain business sponsors and literature about the services typically represented at the back-to-school party.
He said school resource officers will provide names of students who should receive the backpacks. He also plans to provide a “buffer” supply of backpacks to aid families that have recently fallen upon hard times due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Anyone seeking to make a donation or needing more information may call Robinson at 208-403-6322 or visit www.b2sgiveaway.com.