Long lines greet back-to-school giveaway - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Long lines greet back-to-school giveaway

August 2nd, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Long lines greet back-to-school giveaway

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

Chandler’s Operation Back to School backpack giveaway is the largest in East Valley. It also remains a work in progress.

For Our City Chandler hosts the annual event the weekend before classes begin and residents lined up in a long queue on July 16 at Chandler High School. It was such a long line stretching onto Arizona Avenue that organizers started handing out backpacks 45 minutes early, Councilwoman Christine Ellis said.

A half hour after the event’s official start time of 8 a.m., traffic was still backed up more than a half-mile on Arizona Avenue past Galveston.

This year’s event was held at a single location, unlike recent years. It is part of an evolution of the 9-year-old giveaway. In the early years, people would park their cars and get other services to help them get ready for school.

Chandler Unified School District returned to classrooms on July 20th.

“Years ago, when we did this, we actually had people parking here, and then waiting in line because we were also offering haircuts and school uniforms and shoes,” said Mayor Kevin Hartke, who helped start this event.

The mayor, who is still pastor at Trinity Christian Fellowship Church, said he saw a need for an organization to help the faith-based community get involved to make a difference in the city. That’s when he helped found For Our City Chandler.

But then the COVID pandemic began, and social distancing became a priority. That’s when they decided to set up in four different locations.

This year they hoped a single location with a large parking lot for cars to snake back-and-forth in an amusement park type queue line would be enough. Most folks didn’t seem to mind the wait.

In addition to the backpacks filled with school supplies appropriate for their grade, there were also goodies being handed out to people in line. Taco Bell donated 1,500 breakfast burritos and others donated water. The line moved quickly. In the end, they handed out between 2,600 and 2,700 backpacks. The few hundred that were left over will go to Title I schools this week to be given to any students who did not get one.

“It’s part of our community solution to make sure that as many kids as possible are ready to thrive when they go back to school,” Hartke said.

This was the first year the event had a titled sponsor, Edwards Vacuum. There were also others in the business community who contributed. Most of the cost for the free backpacks and school supplies came from that segment of the community.

“I would say about 75 to 80% is our sponsors, and the rest are individuals or small businesses that do school supply donations,” said Jose Fernandez, a member of For Our City Chandler’s board. “We had about four main sponsors that brought in most of the funds. What we do is we use that to buy supplies wholesale, stretching as far as we can.”

Fernandez said they try to take the lessons learned from each event and apply them the next year.

“Every year we test different things out,” he said. “So yeah, this is the first time where we just did that one location. One of the differences we made is we have more traffic in the parking lot. So snaking through, but we still have traffic out to Chandler Boulevard. So future years, we’re going to try to address that to whether that means multiple sites.”


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