Preparing for opening day: Backpack distribution draws big crowds  

  • The line of parents and children waiting to participate in Thursday’s Valuing Our Children-Patch Parents’ Council backpack distribution stretched for most of a block from the Athol Credit Union office down Main Street.  —Greg Vine

  • The lobby of the Athol Credit Union was buzzing with activity during the Valuing Our Children-Patch Parents’ Council backpack distribution. Greg Vine

  • Parents and children file into the lobby of the Athol Credit Union where backpacks and school supplies were handed out. Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 8/16/2019 9:50:23 PM
Modified: 8/16/2019 9:50:16 PM

ATHOL – There was no mistaking where the 18th Annual Valuing Our Children-Patch Parents’ Council backpack distribution was taking place Thursday morning. No one driving through downtown Athol could miss the line of kids and parents stretching from the Athol Credit Union for nearly a full block down Main Street.

Backpacks full of school supplies were distributed to local students in grades Kindergarten through 12.

Path Family Advocate Kelly Flaherty, who started in her position in November, was in charge of organizing the event.

“This was my first year doing this,” she said. “We rely heavily on donations from the town. We’ve gotten donations from – I can’t even name them all, and I don’t want to forget anyone. We partner with the Salvation Army, who pays for have the bags that we buy. We also did a drive this year at Walmart where people made donations.”

Flaherty said Patch makes accommodations to supply about 500 children.

“By the time we’re done,” she said, “whatever is left over, we fill the backpacks and give them out at the school openings. Some parents couldn’t make it today. So, if they let us know we give them whatever we have left over. If people call me and we have the supplies, I set up a time with them and give it to them. So, we base in about 500, 550.”

In addition to the Salvation Army, Flaherty also credited Athol Credit Union and several other organizations.

“Every year, Athol Credit Union gives us a space, and buys us a bunch of supplies, and hands out snacks for the kids,” she said. “The Junior Pioneer Women’s Club gave us a lot – about 100 backpacks and supplies. The Franklin County Cyclists gave us some supplies. D’Ambosio Eye Care and Heywood Hospital gave us some supplies. It’s tough to name them all.”

Flaherty said planning for the August event starts early in the year.

“We start sending out letters in March to people who have donated in the past,” she explained, “and just spreading the word and asking for donations.”

A delay in the distribution didn’t seem to dampen enthusiasm for the program.

“There was a mix-up,” said Flaherty. “We had to push it back a couple of days because the bags did not arrive in time. So, that was a little stressful. But the community was really good about it. We got the word out. I had a few phone calls Tuesday, but we had signs up in the window and (on social media). If people said to me ‘I can’t make it on Thursday,’ I will arrange with them to come at a different time and pick up a bag.”

Flaherty said 40 or more volunteers work to make the backpack distribution possible. Two sessions were held Thursday, one from 10 a.m. to noon and another from 1 to 3 p.m.

Said one mother, who asked not to be identified, “This is a great thing they do for the kids, and really helps families whose budgets may be a little stretched. It really is appreciated.”

All Athol schools open for the new year on Wednesday, Aug. 28.

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