COVID-19 changed how, when and where kids go back to school, but the need for school supplies remains the same.
Several local programs seek to continue the tradition of supplying backpacks and other basic supplies for children in need during the pandemic:
- The annual Pima County Sheriff’s Department Badges & Backpacks, which moved last year to the Tucson Convention Center after years at Park Place Mall, has been changed this year to a low-touch, drive-through venue at four local high schools over the first two weekends in August. Each venue will also offer walk-up service for families who utilize public transportation.
- The Arizona Bilingual Newspaper is also showing its commitment to education throughout COVID-19 with the annual Kidz Expo & Back to School Event from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 15, at Kino Sports Complex, 2500 E. Ajo Way.
“COVID-19 guidelines have altered our ability to host Badges & Backpacks in the same capacity as in in the past. We had to step back this year and change our approach, but that didn’t change our commitment to making sure to provide the tools kids need even though they may not know yet how it will look to go back to school,” said Tara Barrera, marketing and community relations specialist with the sheriff’s department.
Barrera emphasized that while COVID restrictions prevent the large gathering associated with the all-inclusive health, safety and activity fair, the spirit of the event remains the same.
“Last year’s event had expanded to include giveaways of 2,000 backpacks with school supplies and 80 exhibitors, including Tucson Electric Power, Tucson Medical Center, El Rio Health, iHeartRadio, United Healthcare, Banner|Aetna and many more. We had everything from dental hygiene checks and health information to giveaways of bike helmets and booster seats. We were proud that it was a full-service, back-to-school event, and we are hopeful that next year we will pick up and continue to grow the event,” Barrera said.
In the meantime, she said the department is grateful that Banner|Aetna has once again stepped forward with $13,000 to purchase 2,000 backpacks and school supplies that will be distributed to school-age children.
Community involvement is a hallmark of Banner|Aetna, which provides health insurance to 5,100 employees in Pima County, according to Ray Eveleth, senior account executive with Banner|Aetna.
Eveleth said the organization recognizes the importance of continued educational support for the children most in need, particularly since many families are experiencing adverse economic impact from the pandemic.
“We know how important it is for any kid to have access to school supplies. Regardless of economic status, every kid wants to show up to school with a new backpack and pencils and other supplies. When COVID put everything on hold, Tara was concerned the event wouldn’t happen in a traditional way this year, but to us it doesn’t matter. Kids will go back to school and whether it is virtually or physically, they will still need supplies. This was a commitment regardless of the pandemic,” Eveleth said.
The annual Kidz Expo & Back to School Event has tweaked its traditional format to conform to pandemic protocol, the drive-thru will feature giveaways of 3,000 backpacks with school supplies for children ages 4 to 14 while supplies last. Festivities will also include distribution of books and gift cards to Chick-fil-A and Food City.
Alma Gallardo, executive director of Arizona Bilingual News, said she hopes the event will provide some relief for families who may be experiencing difficulties.
“It is kind of crazy right now, and I think this is one of the most important times to contribute. Lots of people have lost their jobs, and kids can be struggling. … There are options in the community, but it is hard when you have three or four kids. We have many generous sponsors, and we are happy to try and help,” Gallardo said.
Contact freelance writer Loni
Nannini at firstname.lastname@example.org
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