For many students, going back to school means shopping for new school supplies for the coming year.
Since not all families can afford new supplies, Laurel Board of Trade director John Donohue said his organization has begun its fifth year of fundraising to purchase and donate these necessities to students in need.
The school supplies will be distributed as part of the Back to School, End of Summer celebration on Saturday, Aug. 26.
At the annual event, held at Granville Gude Park on Mulberry Street, students and their families can enjoy a live band performance, games and competitions and moon bounces and visit educational information vendors.
City of Laurel's Department of Parks and Recreation will also show the live-action movie, "Pete's Dragon," in the park at dusk. The event runs from 5 to 10 p.m.
Donohue and Matthew Coates, the board's vice president, led the committee for the event.
Donohue said the Board of Trade will not be giving out as many school supplies as they did last year, but will raffle off up to 60 supply-filled backpacks, depending on donations received. The idea was to create a fun-filled family evening, while making sure school supplies gets into the hands of those who truly need them.
Families must provide proof of city residency to be eligible for the backpack raffle.
"We really wanted to focus on providing them to local kids in need," Donohue said. "We figured what better organization to determine that than the schools themselves."
Donations will be used to purchase school supplies for students in need and given to schools in the city for distribution. Participating elementary schools include Bond Mill; Laurel; Scotchtown Hills; Oaklands; Deerfield Run; and James Harrison. Some secondary schools will also receive donations.
Last year, the board raised about $15,000 in donations, providing upward of 1,000 school supply kits to both students and teachers. Donations are collected from local businesses and organizations as well as city residents and the Prince George's County Council. The board hopes to exceed last year's funds and raise $20,000.
Backpacks for students are stuffed with glue sticks, crayons, pens and pencils, notebooks, composition books, pencil sharpeners and a container for supplies. Donohue said teachers also need classroom supplies, such as dry erase markers, Sharpies, pencils and composition books – items they often pay for out of their own pockets.
About 550 kits were already purchased for $8,000.
Justin FitzGerald, the principal at Bond Mill Elementary, said the back-to-school event is similar to spring training for baseball in that everyone is getting excited and ready for the new school year. Once everyone gets their supplies, he said, they're ready to hit the ground running.
"I think the event is wonderful and further demonstrates the power of Laurel and the commitment that we all have collectively for children," said FitzGerald a 14-year principal. "We try our best to limit the supply list as much as possible, but the reality is that there are many supplies that need to be purchased. We realize that it is a financial burden on families [and] everyone is going to be able to benefit from the generosity of the event."
The board will also donate some supplies to Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services, whose staff will distribute them to low-income families.
Alli Milner, a case manager and program coordinator at LARS, said the nonprofit has another school supply drive at the beginning of each school year for its clients at the crisis center, which is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
"The Laurel Board of Trade is a huge supporter of our drive and they provide a ton of supplies and backpacks," Milner said. "They're big fans of making sure the supplies get directly in the hands of the students who need them."
The LARS supply drive began Aug. 14. If a client's file lists school-age children in their household, they can receive a backpack with school supplies. The number of families reached varies each year, Milner said, but about 150 students received supplies last year through LARS.
Coates said the Laurel Board of Trade anticipates another successful back-to-school celebration.
"We want to give back to the community," Coates said. "This is something that I believe should happen – giving back to the kids."