In this undated photo, state Rep. Mike Sturla poses with School District of Lancaster students during the annual Back to School Giveaway at Clipper Magazine Stadium.
In this undated photo, state Rep. Mike Sturla poses with School District of Lancaster students during the annual Back to School Giveaway at Clipper Magazine Stadium.

State Rep. Mike Sturla isn't sure yet when or where his annual School District of Lancaster Back to School Giveaway will take place this fall.

But he's urging families with students in the district to register them now, so organizers can plan and ensure everyone gets what they need.

Participants can receive a variety of free items: School uniforms, backpacks, shoes, and books.

The goal is to "eliminate as many hurdles as possible," Sturla said, so students can arrive for the first day of school fully equipped and ready to learn.

To register, visit www.pahouse.com/sturla/backtoschool.

Festival atmosphere

Now in its ninth year, the giveaway takes place at Clipper Magazine Stadium, having outgrown its original location at the Lancaster Recreation Commission's Rec Center. Last year, it served more than 1,500 children in grades K through 8, Sturla said.

Traditionally, the giveaway is an exuberant, festive celebration, with food, music and games. Sturla said he sees tears of joy every year when families receive supplies they would never be able to afford.

"The Back to School Giveaway is one of my favorite events," said Heather Dighe, executive director of the Recreation Commission, which continues to partner with Sturla's office on the initiative.

This year, coronavirus has complicated matters. For starters, students usually receive information on the upcoming giveaway at the end of the previous school year; this spring, however, schools closed under Lancaster County's lockdown order well before that happened.

Now, organizers are figuring out how to host the giveaway with social distancing — it probably won't be at Clipper this year, Sturla said, and could end up being a drive-through event — as well as mulling what supplies students might need for what promises to be an unusual year.

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It's likely they'll need masks and hand sanitizer, but what else? Another set of supplies at home for distance learning? Portable USB drives to go back and forth between home and school?

"A lot of this stuff is still in flux," Sturla said, noting that because of Covid-19, the level of need in the community looks likely be greater than ever.

Conributions welcomed

The giveaway relies entirely on support fom individuals and local organizations. Donations, which are tax-deductible, can be made to the Lancaster Rec Center through its online platform, lancasterrec.kindful.com. In the "Select a campaign" drop-down menu, pick "Rep. Sturla's Back to School Event."

Individuals are asked to donate money rather than school supplies, because Sturla's office can use its bulk buying power to source items more cheaply. A financial donation will stretch much farther, the Democratic lawmaker said.

Potential volunteers are asked to call Sturla's Lancaster office at (717) 295-3157 or email legislative assistant Francis Miliano at [email protected]. Miliano is also the contact for organizations interested in making in-kind donations.

One way or another, the giveaway will happen, Sturla said.

"We're not going to let the kids down," he said. "We're going to be ready."

Giveaway flyer
Tim Stuhldreher