LA PLATA, Md. (Aug. 28, 2016)—The trucks backed up to the College of Southern Maryland Campus Center in La Plata on a recent Friday morning and soon a swarm of CSM employees descended upon them. Within minutes the cargo had been removed, taken inside and placed on tables. Shortly after that, the hundreds of boxes had been emptied and their contents neatly stacked.
"That was great teamwork," Diane Payne, one of the volunteers, said as she looked around the room. Payne is a mail operations support technician at the college.
"It takes a village," someone among the bustling crowd of volunteers chimed in.
In record time, the volunteers had unloaded and set up tables piled high with school supplies, readying them for the next phase of the project—stuffing 1,500 backpacks with the essential supplies for students in elementary, middle and high schools in Charles County.
Among the items were pencils, pens, crayons, markers, highlighters, binders, notebook paper, composition books, notebooks, glue and glue sticks, scissors, school boxes and rulers. And, of course, backpacks in just about every color and design.
The backpack project is one of the biggest programs that the Charles County Children's Aid Society tackles each year. And Pam Vahle, chair of the organization's board of directors, was quick to point out that it does indeed take the support of the community to get the project completed.
She noted among the groups that made the event possible: Carmax Foundation and its $10,000 grant, a grant from Navigant Consulting of Washington, D.C., and a $5,000 donation from the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center medical staff. There also was help from Best Buy's outreach program, McDonald's, Charles County Sheriff's Office, CSM, Sacred Heart Church, Edward Jones of La Plata, Kiwanis Club of Waldorf, Mom's Club Waldorf West, St. Paul's Episcopal Church and the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco. Charles County Arts Alliance donated 528 filled pencil boxes, and Children's Aid also accepted donations from members of the community and other local businesses and churches.
The back-to-school project moved to CSM's La Plata Campus a few years ago. The employees on the La Plata Campus have made the event their community service project. Vahle said the move to CSM has been "wonderful. It's great to be in this partnership with CSM. It really makes a difference."
Earle Knapp, an 18-year board member with Children's Aid Society, noted that the project grows a little each year.
"I truly appreciate what the college has done and is doing for us," he said. "I'm not sure we could do this without the college's help. From loading and unloading the trucks full of supplies, to setting up, to distribution. We've done this before, but without the college's help it's been a scramble." This was the 16th year for the backpack project and the fourth year CSM has provided volunteers for the program.
After the backpacks were stuffed with the supplies, they were moved to a larger room and arranged according to school level in preparation for distribution the next day. Families arrived and each child was able to select a backpack. The children were greeted by Southern Maryland Blue Crabs mascot Pinch, who gave out free tickets to a baseball game, and Andy the Armadillo from Texas Roadhouse restaurant.
"The fulfilling part is when the families pick up the backpacks," said Annie Sutten, lead college event manager at CSM. "The families are so appreciative. Seeing the looks on their faces. That makes the work so worthwhile." Sutten worked to coordinate the set-up for the delivery and organization of the supplies to pack the backpacks and the distribution on the following day. Other service project organizers were Kim Yellman, CSM's executive assistant to the president; Heather Zeolla, lead coordinator academic support; and Sharon Buckler, administrative assistant in the president's office.
"We really made an impact on our community. It was just amazing to see so many staff and faculty take time out of their busy schedules for a great cause," CSM employee Payne said. "It really touched my heart."
The mission of the Charles County Children's Aid Society is to improve the quality of life for struggling county families with children younger than 18 by providing them with the basic necessities of life including, but not limited to, clothing, food, educational classes, recreational activities and holiday assistance. Children's Aid has been serving Charles County since 1934.
The nonprofit accepts donations of school supplies year-round. They can be dropped off at the CAS office at 3000 Huntington Circle in Waldorf.
For information about Charles County Children's Aid Society, visit childrens-aid-society.org/. For information about service projects and volunteer opportunities with nonprofit organizations within Southern Maryland, visit www.csmd.edu/NonProfitInstitute .