Back to School is Different this Year

By Dan Shufelt

On July 25, 2019, Arizona Helping Hands participated in the Back to School Clothing Drive at Grand Canyon University. During that single afternoon and evening, we supplied school uniform clothing, along with backpacks stuffed full of school supplies to 1,972 children in foster care. Thanks to collection drives and donations from dozens of companies, over the ensuing weeks, an additional 4,000 children received the tools necessary to start the school year successfully – but that was last year.

Early in 2020, we put plans in place, together with generous funding from the BHHS Legacy Foundation and Executive Council Charities, to repeat this success and help thousands more boys and girls this year. Then COVID-19 took control.

Our 2020 Back to School drive looks very different. Gone are the collection boxes which accumulated supplies to stuff the backpacks. There are no company volunteer groups to put the pencils, notebooks, crayons and more into the backpacks. It is not suitable to have thousands of children assembled on the basketball court at GCU. Like so many things in life, we’ve had to change everything about our Back to School Drive this year.

Instead of collecting supplies and having an army of volunteers build the backpacks, we’ve had to buy pre-stocked backpacks. Instead of corporate sponsors, we are relying on the generosity of individuals. Instead of a large facility to host a giveaway event, we are utilizing our parking lot to manage a stream of cars, using a no-contact service to fill orders for children in foster care who have registered on-line for the items needed.

On July 17, pre-registered foster families arrived at Arizona Helping Hands. They were greeted in the heat by our staff who checked off names and directed them to drive around to the back of the building. Additional staff members retrieved the clothing packages we have pre-assembled for the elementary age children, along with backpacks and school supplies, and load them into the trunks of vehicles traversing the traffic line. More than 2,000 children received these important elements, and they will be prepared for whatever form the new school year will take.

We miss the interaction with the kids. Last year was filled with high fives from the kids and hugs from the foster parents. We had the ability to escort second graders through the supply lines to select polo shirts, shorts, shoes and more. I remember so well foster parents crying tears of joy – knowing their kids had been given love and support on that Thursday afternoon.

Back to School is different this year, but the end result is what is important. Once again, thousands of children will be served through our program. They will have the notebooks, paper, markers and more that will allow them to pick up their education, in whatever fashion it will take in 2020.

I am so proud of the fact that Arizona Helping Hands is here to serve these children. Through our myriad of programs, we help to boost the self-esteem of children whose lives have been disrupted by abuse and neglect. We are here to help them on their journey. We want every child to have the tools to be successful in this coming school year and beyond.

Your gift of $35 will buy a backpack loaded with the supplies teachers request most. When you buy a backpack at, you can be assured that you have made a difference for one child. I can think of nothing that could provide greater satisfaction.

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