ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – This is the second year A Gift For Teaching is hosting the “Great Big Backpack Build” and organizers said because of the pandemic, the need will be greater than ever this coming school year.
“I think because of the economic impact on our community, so many more families are still struggling to recover from the pandemic and losing their jobs or maybe just getting back on their feet,” said A Gift For Teaching President Jane Thompson.
Through the event, 15,000 backpacks are being stuffed with much-needed supplies for local students. Many of the volunteers are teachers like Nina Taylor from Orlo Vista Elementary.
“Most of the time I would have to spend my own money to go out and purchase school supplies, but with A Gift For Teaching, they have everything we need,” said Taylor.
According to the National Education Association, teachers spend an average of $500 a year on school supplies out of pocket.
A Gift For Teaching is a nonprofit organization that provides free school supplies and resources to teachers and their students in underserved areas of Orange and Osceola counties.
“The students need so much, between the supplies and food, so this year has been tough on everyone. For me to provide what they need, makes a difference,” said SAFE Coordinator for Freedom Middle Jacquie Storms. “If I can put a smile on somebody’s face, it puts a smile on mine and they are so appreciative, and it reduces stress and anxiety.”
Through the pandemic, A Gift For Teaching continued getting results for teachers and their students, pivoting from their free teacher in-store shopping to an online curbside pickup. The store stays stocked through grants and donations.
“It took a lot of innovation, hard work and dedication to our mission. We knew we were still going to have to serve teachers who are trying to work with children whose families can’t provide the tools to learn,” said Thompson.
Teachers and community members are coming together to show their appreciation by volunteering for the event.
“That’s what it’s all about, they provide and they give and we give back by doing something like this,” said Tomas Bennett who teaches at Freedom High School.
The “Great Big Backpack Build” will continue over the next few weeks as volunteers continue stuffing thousands of backpacks that will be distributed to students in need before the next school year.
The free teacher store is expected to open back up for teachers to shop for supplies in early August.