At least 633 students will start this school year with a backpack donated by a Federal Way community member through the Red Canoe Credit Union’s annual school supply drive.
Many more will benefit from the money raised along with the donated school supplies.
Each Red Canoe location partners with a local community organization for this drive each year. Starting last year, the Federal Way branch began working with the nonprofit We Love Our City.
Participants could donate either physical supplies or cash donations, and 1,011 pounds of school supplies were donated, totaling over $5,000. Red Canoe pledges to match every pound and every dollar donated, up to 5,000 pounds and up to $5,000.
The donation drive focused on quality backpacks rather than general school supplies this year after conversations with many community groups, school staff and families.
“I’m really focused on how to help well,” said volunteer coordinator Shelley Pauls at We Love Our City. “Instead of assuming that we know what they need, we asked very specific questions.”
The shift to a focus on backpacks is due to the current practice in Federal Way Public Schools providing basic school supplies for all students, according to their website.
FWPS also changed their strategy for how they distribute school supplies, stating on their website that “this year we’ve shifted our practice of purchasing a standard list of grade-level school supplies for every school to empowering each of our schools to offer free school supplies that align with their needs. This change will ensure that each scholar has the materials needed for planned school activities and assignments.”
For families who are in need of supplies, including the donated backpacks, Pauls said that contacting the family liaison at their child’s school is the best place to start. For middle and high school students, the Communities in Schools representatives are another great resource.
Federal Way is one of the only school districts in the area to provide school supplies for free in a program that began during the pandemic. The Auburn School District also does this. The Tacoma School District shares resources for families to get free school supplies through a community partner, and the Kent School District provides supplies for $30 for all families or $10 for low income families.
About the drive
The Red Canoe supply drive has been a signature event for the credit union since the first one in Longview in 2007. The first one in Federal Way was in 2009.
Throughout the years, community members have donated over 53,000 pounds of school supplies in Federal Way alone. During this time, the organizers have had to shift strategies multiple times.
Before the pandemic, the drive was only for physical donations of school supplies. During the pandemic, they shifted to all cash donations out of an abundance of caution. This year, they are using a hybrid approach, and had a higher ratio of cash donations to physical ones, according to Bridget O’Connor, the community engagement officer at Red Canoe.
While cash donations are more flexible for the community partners to meet student needs, O’Connor said community members seem to enjoy donating physical items as well.
“For retired teachers or parents whose children are past the age or people who love to shop, it can be a fun activity and way to give back,” O’Connor said.
This is the second year the Red Canoe has chosen We Love Our City as their main community partner for the event.
“When we look at our community partner, we make sure we have a partner who has their finger on the pulse of the need,” O’Connor said on choosing We Love Our City. The organization grew out of community members of Federal Way who wanted more opportunities to give back to their city. The nonprofit now acts as a connector and incubator for many different groups and projects.
Pauls said that everything she does as the volunteer coordinator there “really is a collaboration. We find out who is doing it well and partner with them.”
For this year’s drive, Pauls connected church groups, school leaders and staff, local businesses and more. Overall there were at least 13 different drop off sites.
Backpacks and funds will be distributed in different ways depending on the need. Some individual church partners will share the backpacks and supplies as part of their yearly tradition of supporting a specific school’s orientation day, Pauls told The Mirror.
Other funds may go towards specific needs that they hear from school support staff like nurses and counselors.
“We’re hearing an increasing need for hygeine items for students, basic clothing and snacks,” Pauls said. Some of the funds donated may go toward meeting these needs specifically or others depending on the individual circumstance.
O’Connor said that for people who want to get involved with this next year, the supply drive and fundraiser will begin again the last week of July. She also said: “If they want to give throughout the year, We Love Our City has all kinds of volunteer, supply and donation opportunities. If you have a heart for giving or volunteering they can plug you in wherever you are needed.”
Upcoming events to get ready for the new school year:
• Back 2 School Free Haircuts on Aug. 28 in Town Square Park by Bella Red Salon.
• Boys and Girls Club Resource Fair on Saturday, August 26.