In the foreground, backpacks sit waiting to be filled with school supplies during the 2020 Back to School Giveaway at Clipper Magazine Stadium. (Photo: Audrey Lilley)
In the foreground, backpacks sit waiting to be filled with school supplies during the 2020 Back to School Giveaway at Clipper Magazine Stadium. (Photo: Audrey Lilley)

State Rep. Mike Sturla hands out prepacked backpacks during the 2020 Back to School Giveaway. (Photo: Provided)

In 2019, state Rep. Mike Sturla's annual Back to School Giveaway was an exuberant celebration of learning and community.

Last year, to protect everyone's health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic, it was retooled as a socially distanced backpack pickup.

For the 10th edition in 2021, out of an abundance of caution, it will once again be a drive-through or walk-through backpack distribution, with no special events or other fanfare.

"Like last year, we're going to follow Covid protocols," the Lancaster city Democrat said.

Pickups will take place at Clipper Magazine Stadium, 650 N. Prince St., Lancaster, over three days: Saturday, Aug. 14 through Monday, Aug. 16.

Registration is required. At registration, families will select a date and time for their backpack pick-up. No same-day walk-ups will be allowed.

It's important to register as soon as possible, Sturla said: That way, organizers will be able to get the right items in stock, including the right colors and sizes.

"The more information we can have and the earlier we can have it, the better," he said.

10th Annual Back to School Event

Eligibility: School District of Lancaster students, Kindergarten through 8th grade

Location: Clipper Magazine Stadium, 650 N. Prince St., Lancaster

Dates: Saturday, Aug. 14 through Monday, Aug. 16

Registration: To register, click here.

Volunteers: To sign up, click here.

Donations: Make checks payable to "Lancaster Rec" and write "Sturla Back to School Giveaway" on the memo line. Mail donations to:

Lancaster Recreation Commission
525 Fairview Avenue
Lancaster, PA 17603

 

For more information: Contact Rep. Sturla's office by email using this form, or call (717) 295-3157.

About the event

The initiative, now known as the Back to School Event, provides School District of Lancaster students in kindergarten through eighth grade with the materials they need to be ready to learn.

Many families in the district have limited incomes, and without help, the expense of outfitting their children for school would be out of reach. Through the Back to School Event, all students have a chance to start off on the right foot, Sturla said.

In previous years, families could pick out items themselves while enjoying a community festival complete with food, music and games. More than 1,500 children and their families took part in 2019.

In the drive-through version, children receive backpacks pre-packed with uniforms, shoes, school supplies, books and masks. Participants can also receive information on state social services and college financing options.

Amid last year's disruption, with families unsure if there would be any in-person schooling at all, participation dropped to around 700 students, Sturla's legislative assistant Francis Miliano said. This year, organizers are projecting 1,000 or more.

Sturla urged families not to forego the opportunity. Prospects are increasing for a much more normal school year in 2021-22, and "we want those kids to be ready," he said.

Backpacks filled with school supplies are organized at Clipper Magazine Stadium for the 2020 Back to School Giveaway. (Photo: Audrey Lilley)
Backpacks filled with school supplies are organized at Clipper Magazine Stadium for the 2020 Back to School Giveaway. (Photo: Audrey Lilley)

Meanwhile, Sturla's team is seeking volunteers to help with stocking, packing and distribution.

Volunteers are invited to sign up on the United Way of Lancaster County's "Get Connected" volunteer scheduling website.

Financial donations are welcomed as well. They're preferable to in-kind donations, because the event organizers can buy in bulk, making each dollar go farther — purchasing, say, a dozen backpacks for the same price that three or four would cost at a local store.

The Lancaster Recreation Center accepts donations on the event's behalf. Donations are tax-deductible, and can be mailed to the Rec Center's office.

"Every dollar goes into buying more supplies," Sturla said. "It is money well spent." If there are any unused funds, they can be rolled over for next year.

The amount of preparation that goes into the event is immense, Sturla said. To be sure, he said, the fully fledged, in-person version is more fun, but safety is paramount. Hopefully students and  families can enjoy some of the event's excitement when they get home.

"Our enthusiasm is not diminished," Sturla said. And next year, "we expect to be in full swing."

Tim Stuhldreher