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Big Backpack Event

Drive-thru curbside event set for July 25

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Jul 22, 2021

The Big Backpack Event will return to the Fort Myers Skatium again this Sunday as a drive-thru curbside event providing students and their families with the opportunity to receive a backpack full of supplies, as well as a bag of groceries.

“It went so well that without hesitation this year — let’s do it again,” said Event Public Relations and Marketing Chair Connie Ramos-Williams, president of CONRIC pr + marketing.

Families appreciated the ease of the event while getting the help they deserved, she added.

“We all came together (for the 2020 Big Backpack Event). The one thing we all said . . . we are going to have to make this work one way or another. I was able to convince them we could do it. We were going full steam ahead and not let a pandemic keep us from doing what we do. We created the upbeat happy environment through the DJ music when they arrived. We had firefighters on hand.”

The Big Backpack Event, hosted by the Multicultural Centre of Southwest Florida, now in its 22nd year, will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 25 at the Fort Myers Skatium, 2250 Broadway. The event will serve the first 2,000 students ages 5 to 12. Parents, or guardians, must accompany the children in the vehicle in order to receive the backpack.

Those who take a bus to the Skatium, or walk, also will receive the backpack and food. They will have a designated area to make it easy, and safe, for walkers and drivers at the event.

“I am fortunate to have a dedicated and loyal event committee who works tirelessly to organize and host this event each year,” Multicultural Centre of Southwest Florida Executive Director Leonardo Garcia said in a prepared statement. “These children are our motivation. No one wants to see any child go back to school without a new backpack and school supplies.”

Last year, Ramos-Williams said families were able to stay in their vehicles as law enforcement officers helped them pop their trunk, or roll down their windows if, for some reason, the trunk did not open. This allowed volunteers to put backpacks, as well as bags of food, per child, in the vehicle.

“The kids were smiling and happy and the parents were ecstatic,” she said.

Although the numbers are going down with COVID and things seem to be improving and restrictions lifted, Ramos-Williams said to make it an easy transition from last year to this year they decided to keep the event as drive-thru curbside pick-up.

While law enforcement will direct traffic when entering the Fort Myers Skatium into car lines, a DJ will be playing all sorts of “happening music,” while some folks dance and firefighters putting on displays on their firetrucks while kids go by, waving.

Students will receive a backpack with pencils, pens, 24-pack of Crayola crayons, paper, pocket folders and glue sticks. Ramos-Williams said the backpacks are filled with basic school supplies to ensure that students have some of the supplies on their first day of school.

In addition, Community Cooperative has stepped up again to partner with them to provide family friendly groceries for those who participate in the event. Last year the groceries included such staples as macaroni and cheese, pasta and pasta sauce, peanut butter and jelly, snack bars and juice bars.

“Last year we gave out all the 2,000-plus backpacks that we had and 1,500 bags of family friendly groceries. We ran out of backpacks and school supplies,” Ramos-Williams said, adding that she expects they will do the same this year. “This year we are anticipating the same. We are expecting a good 2,000 kids to come through. That might be anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 vehicles. Some had one child, some had more than one child.”

One of the things she loves about the event, which she has been a part of since its inception, is the diversity of families they serve.

“All over the world. Multiple different backgrounds coming through smiling, happy,” Ramos-Williams said.

Still to this day, she remembers Garcia reaching out to her the very first year asking her to take a look at the Big Backpack Event, take a part in it and see what they can do to improve the event.

“It started in ’99 and where we are today is just remarkable with the amount of families we are able to serve. Seeing the kids smiling is truly what makes me come back each year,” she said.

Neal Communities is the title sponsor again. On average they donate between to $15,000 to $20,000 each year.

“We are buying backpacks and school supplies. We do purchase them. Fundraising dollars are used for that. They are good-quality backpacks and good-quality school supplies. We really do get the things the schools require, or request,” Ramos-Williams said.

In the event’s 21-year history, nearly 40,000 backpacks have been distributed to families. The largest crowd reached 15,000 during the height of the recession in 2008.