TAMPA — Brenda Jensen is trying to get back into the back-to-school groove.
She recently got custody of her grandson and granddaughter, who will be starting fifth and third grades when Hillsborough County students return from summer break Aug. 25.
“I’m a single grandmother, so I’m starting all over again,” Jensen said.
Which is why she was glad to get a little help Saturday at the Tampa YMCA’s backpack giveaway event.
The YMCA, in partnership with Brandon ECHO, gave out more than 1,100 backpacks this weekend to Brandon-area students whose parents needed a little help with their school supplies purchases this year. About 500 families were in line at the YMCA Camp Cristina on Balm Riverview Road by 9 a.m., ready to pick up their goodies.
Each family had demonstrated financial need and pre-registered for backpacks that were stuffed with pencils, crayons, notebooks, folders and other supplies appropriate for each child’s grade level, said Carol Scheafnocker, who chaired the annual event.
A local food bank handed out items like peanut butter, jelly and granola bars. The Y was also distributing toothbrushes to each child and a tube of toothpaste for each family. An area was set up for children to get their vision tested and have their spines checked for Scoliosis.
“This is definitely a need and it’s definitely something we’re very proud of,” Scheafnocker said about the event.
The two organizations started the giveaway years ago when they noticed that some families urgently needed help buying basic school supplies for their children, Scheafnocker said. She spoke with one family Saturday who said they were living out of their car.
“Some of these kids would probably not have a backpack to go back to school with if it weren’t for this event,” she said.
The supplies were either donated or purchased with donated funds, Scheafnocker said. Her team of volunteers has been holding drives, taking up collections and preparing for the back-to-school season since May.
Kids in kindergarten through 12th grade were eligible to receive a backpack. The younger students left with bags adorned with Ninja Turtles, Disney characters and neon colors, while the older ones slung on bags full of pens and college-ruled notebook paper.
Jensen’s grandson left with a new Avengers backpack and her granddaughter with a black bag decorated with hot pink and blue butterflies.
The giveaway — which the family participated in last year as well — is definitely a big help, Jensen said.
Mary Williams and her son, who will be starting sixth grade this year, were referred to the event by their church, First Christian Center in Riverview.
The church registered for them, she said, and then handed them a slip of paper that told them when their “appointment” was to go pick up the bag. She was pleased with how smoothly it went given the amount of people who were in line.
Afterward, she and her son were off to take advantage of the back-to-school sales at some stores before heading home.
“It always helps to be able to get some supplies,” Williams said.