With school starting back in a little less than two months, few students are thinking of going back to school just yet.
While students across Southern Oklahoma are enjoying the summer, the Ardmore Young Professionals and the Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma will be thinking ahead.
The 13th annual Stuff the Backpack fundraiser will begin June 24th, helping students in the area prepare for their first day of school.
Stuff the Backpack helps benefit less fortunate children in Southern Oklahoma by preventing them from being left behind due to a lack of school supplies. The event runs from June 24 though August 2.
Stuff the Backpack was the original charitable fundraiser for the Ardmore Young Professionals back in 2006, donating 10 backpacks full of supplies. The fundraiser has grown over the years, with some previous years reaching a total of 750 backpacks.
In 2018, the  program helped 660 students with school supplies.
Ardmore Young Professionals Director Sarah Johnson said this year’s goal is to reach 1,000 backpacks.
“It is one of my favorite events all year,” Johnson said. “The community gets really excited about it and we get people to show up to help.”
Things have changed since the first Stuff the Backpack drive 13 years ago, with the event coordinators making tweaks to the program.
Originally, backpacks were filled with school supplies and given to the students who qualified. After some consideration, the event changed to donating supplies to area schools to be distributed as needed.
Donating stations will be set up at various locations around Ardmore, where anyone can donate money or school supplies. Some area locations include Toyota of Ardmore, Squatchfit, Main Street Coffee and various banks in the city.
“It never fails to surprise me how much we do get at these drop-offs,” Johnson said. “I always say for people to look out for one of our boxes.”
The Grace Center’s contribution to the fundraiser is different than the Ardmore Young Professional’s. The center gives out vouchers to Staple’s in Ardmore.
To receive the voucher, or participate in the school supplies giveaway, parents of students in Carter, Murray, Love, Johnston and Marshall Counties must sign up through the Grace Center by bringing a letter from the school district demonstrating the need for their student or a letter from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Grace Center Executive Director Laura Akers will take part in her first Stuff the Backpack event this year, hoping to help as many families as possible.
“We want to make sure the children get the essential school supplies that they need,” Akers said. “So by giving a voucher, they can go to Staple’s and get the pens that are necessary, the wide paper or the college notebook paper, depending on what their needs are.”
The National Retail Federation conducted a survey, reaching the conclusion in 2018 that the average household spent $122.13 on school supplies.
In Carter County alone, nearly 25 percent of students in the county live in households at or under the poverty level, according to Akers.
“We really believe that the backpack program helps families get their children ready to get back to school in ways that they wouldn’t be able to without our assistance, Akers said. “If you show up on the first day without school supplies or without some of the school supplies, you are already starting behind. That’s what we try to avoid with the backpack program.”