#BethlehemSeniorServicesDepartment #BackpackDrive #DiegoCagara #SpotlightNews
BETHLEHEM — While local students are making their final preparations to head back to school within the coming week, some students aren’t able to start the new academic year off with the supplies they’ll need to succeed. Fortunately, the Town of Bethlehem’s Senior Services Department does what it can to alleviate that dilemma for some.
On Monday, Aug. 20, a crew of volunteers, including members of local churches and staff from the town’s YMCA branch, filled backpacks with either new or gently-used school supplies including notebooks, binders, calculators, pens and pencils, in the auditorium at Town Hall for local elementary, middle and high school students in need. By the end of the day, the department helped provide supplies for 92 students.
However, the “backpacking day” is just one part of the department’s overall giving-back mission. For nearly three decades, it has been collecting supplies and monetary donations on an annual basis to share with financially-disadvantaged families and students.
“I wasn’t even here yet when it first started but since then, we have tried to continue building connections with people here and the overall community,” said Alice Parker, one of the department’s outreach workers and organizers of the backpacking day.
The department easily referred to supplies lists that were provided by parents in need on school districts’ websites and even in paper to the Town Hall, to give them an idea of what and how much exactly students would need for the year.
“This year, we were specifically able to buy several book bags and 26 L.L. Bean backpacks for kids entering sixth grade primarily, since sixth graders need more books and things to transport them in than students in lower grades,” she said.
She did stress that this supply drive did not exclusively cater to Bethlehem families.
“We go by town lines, not by school districts,” she said. “Families and students in the Town of Bethlehem can go to this supply drive as a resource, as well as for Selkirk people and some North Bethlehem people, since the latter falls under the Guilderland [Central] School District.”
Director of Senior Services Jane Sanders said that supplies and monetary donations are generally received between mid-July and late August, right as classes are set to resume. People may bring their contributions or donations to Town Hall, or to clearly-marked drop-off points across town, such as Bethlehem’s YMCA Branch and area grocery stores. Fliers were also put up to inform the public about the school supply drive and backpacking day.
“A core of our senior volunteers would pick up those donations from those places and bring them here to the Town Hall,” Sanders added. “After gathering them all, we look back at the parents’ lists and by August, we organize our inventory and actively purchase some more supplies if [we] need to.”
Both Sanders and Parker noted that the sheer amount of donations and supplies exceeded their expectations this year.
“We had an overabundance so we were able to donate some to other regional organizations for students in neighboring towns,” Sanders said.
Such organizations included the nonprofit Grassroots Givers in Albany, which accepts clothing, books and household appliances; the donations-reliant Mary’s Corner in Cohoes which is based out of the Church of the Holy Trinity there, and provides nursing needs and children’s products for Cohoes, Green Island, Watervliet and Waterford residents; and a church food pantry in Selkirk.
Bethlehem’s Senior Services department also hosts a food pantry at the Town Hall which accepts non-perishable food throughout the year.
“We have 60 Bethlehem families who make use of our food pantry here, which in turn helps many of their small children,” Parker said. “We send letters to our pantry families to let them know they can have this supply drive as a resource to assist them too.”
The supply drive and food pantry are two ways the Senior Services Department provides for locals who are not as financially steady. It also aims to encourage others in the community to donate, which then helps to inspire confidence particularly in students who do not have immediate access to supplies that are needed for their education.
“I think every child who goes to school has the right to walk in with supplies they need and sometimes, that’s not possible,” said Parker. “With this program, we can supply them and help them and make it special in some way. We feel proud of it and we just want to thank the community for their generosity and help!”
Sanders echoed her sentiment by saying, “Everything went really well! There [was] lots of participation from the community, lots of donations and lots of people asking how they can help. We were really pleased with how it turned out!”