Tools for Teachers totes are being filled by United Way of the Tri-Valley Area. Submitted photo

FARMINGTON — Since 2009, United Way of the Tri–Valley Area has partnered with the Farmington Rotary and other local businesses to provide free backpacks and basic school supplies to kids in need.

The first year’s program resulted in 25 children receiving school backpacks. By 2018, that number had exploded to 587, and UWTVA anticipates it to increase again this year.

“The success of Packs for Progress is a reaction to a real community need,” said Lisa Laflin, Executive Director of UWTVA. “It is an income-eligible only program. We use federal poverty guidelines to qualify applicants. And the overwhelming majority of those applicants are determined to have need.”

UWTVA has started a complimentary program for schools as well, called Tools for Teachers.

“We are building kits for teachers, too,” said Laflin. “Teachers need to have extra supplies on–hand too. So many end up using their own money to ensure that no kid starts school without basic supplies.

“We will deliver a 30-gallon tote to each of the 17 schools operating in our area, filled with school supplies and other important things that sometimes fall on teachers to provide. Bleach wipes, tissues, even personal hygiene products are included. These are things there never seem to be enough of.”

The Rotary Club of Farmington has pledged to provide 175 backpacks, is collecting supplies and pledging funds. In 2018 the group contributed $1,000 towards the effort. With the need growing so quickly, other area businesses are stepping up to assist as well.

Backpacks for Kids is sponsored by The Dugout Bar and Grill and Franklin Savings Bank. Historically, L.L. Bean has contributed as many as 100 backpacks. And UWTVA welcomes all goods and cash donations, from both individuals and local businesses.

“University of Maine Farmington faculty especially has also been a huge supporter, helping us take care of any students on a wait list at the very end,” said Nichole Ernest, Community Resource Coordinator for UWTVA. “Our social media programs and local news coverage have made this program flourish. But word of mouth is the best way for us to get backpacks to the students who need them. Anyone who knows someone who will benefit from this program, just have them call our office at 778–5048. We can fill out an application right over the phone.”

Donations can be dropped off at United Way at 218 Fairbanks Road. The application deadline for Backpacks for Kids is August 9, and on August 15 UWTVA will hold a Stuffing Event to match all the donated supplies with backpacks. It will coincide with the UWTVA’s Annual Giving Campaign. People are invited to join UWTVA staff and volunteers at New Leap Training Center, 313 Farmington Falls Road, Farmington, to pitch in. There will be food and music.

Backbacks will be available for distribution to students beginning on August 19.

Volunteers stuffing backpacks for United Way of the Tri-Valley Area’s 2018 Packs for Progress program. Submitted photo


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