COURTESY KIMYA NILSEN Some of the 185 backpacks collected by the Montclair Community Operation Backpack Drive are seen here.


August is zipping by, which means the start of back-to-school shopping for many families.

According to the National Retail Federation, a retail trade association, the average family will spend more than $660 for school supplies.

Several groups in Montclair are asking people to pick up a few extra supplies for area children in need, and while one drive has just concluded, others will continue through Labor Day.

The Human Needs Food Pantry is collecting school supplies this summer, up through Labor Day.

HNFP board member Eleanor Walter said that the school supplies drive is one of a number of themed giveaways that Human Needs does at different times of the year. Others include a costume giveaway at Halloween, a baby supplies giveaway on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and so on.

“Anything that we have in hand, we’ll give away,” Walter said. She said the pantry will accept school supplies at any time of the year, but that the pantry prefers to have school supplies in stock by Labor Day so children can be outfitted for the first day of school.

Walter said that a lot of the donations, such as crayons and brightly-colored backpacks with cartoon characters, tend to be geared toward younger children. While those items are welcome, she said, Human Needs is especially in need of supplies for middle- and high school students. It is during those years, she said, that students start to need three-ring binders for each class, specialized items such as calculators, and book sleeves for textbooks, and the cost of those items can soon add up.

Walter said that many families that Human Needs serves find themselves in the position of putting food on the table, or buying school supplies, but not both.

Walter said the supplies are given out cafeteria-style. All of the backpacks and supplies are spread out on a table, and children and their families can come through and pick out which items they would like. “We don’t fill up the backpack and hand it out,” she said. “But we let them pick out which backpack they want, which notebooks they want.”

Human Needs also requests that backpacks and school supplies be as gender-neutral as possible. All items must be new or gently-used and clean. Items must be dropped off while the pantry is open; there will also be a designated drop-off time on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon.
While she was not aware of the exact numbers, Walter said that Human Needs is definitely seeing an uptick in the number of children and teenagers needing school supplies, since Human Needs now has a larger number of families among its client base.

Sentinels giveaway
The Montclair Sentinels will be holding their 10th annual school supplies giveaway on Sunday, Aug. 27, in Glenfield Park on Maple Avenue, near Glenfield School.

Montclair Police Detective Kim Nelson-Edwards, a school resource officer at Montclair High School, has been overseeing the drive since its inception. “We’re looking to service a minimum of 500 kids,” Nelson-Edwards said on Monday.

Each year, the Sentinels work with several community groups, including the Montclair Education Association, the Montclair Community Pre-K and the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation, to help identify families who could benefit from the supply giveaway, and to ensure that those families are made aware of it.

Families will be asked to prove Montclair residency for the event. However, Nelson-Edwards will accommodate a small number of out-of-town families after Montclair families have been provided with supplies. An example will be if a Montclair family has cousins or other relatives from another town in need of supplies.

As at the Human Needs Food Pantry, Nelson-Edwards said supplies for middle- and high school students are especially needed.

It is not unusual for high school students to need new supplies by the middle of the school year: “Come January, kids are in my office. ‘Detective Nelson, do you have any notebooks? Do you have any paper?’” So she keeps extra supplies in her office at the school for that purpose.

Sometimes the giveaway organizers will receive extra backpacks. At the midway point of the year, Nelson-Edwards said, a student may need a new backpack because their old one got torn. “They’re walking around with books in a plastic bag,” she said, which often results in that student being teased. And one year, the giveaway was fortunate to receive a donation of scientific calculators. “That was a treat,” she said.

Besides the supplies giveaway, there will be food and drinks, games, prizes and face-painting. “Just so they can have a full day of fun.
“And we don’t allow the parents into the room to pick out the bags,” Nelson-Edwards said. Each child gets to go in and pick out what color and style of backpack they want, which notebooks they want, and so forth. Supplies will be arranged by grade level; there will also be small supply bags suitable for pre-K students.

operation backpack

Montclair Community Operation Backpack wrapped up its summer drive on Aug. 4.

Operation Backpack, organized by the Greater New York chapter of Volunteers of America, collects backpacks and school supplies for children and teenagers living in homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters in the New Jersey-New York area.

Kimya Nilsen, the local coordinator for Montclair’s Operation Backpack, has been participating in the effort for three years. As of Aug. 3, the next-to-last day of the drive, she reported that the drive had received 55 packs, with more expected over the next 48 hours. The drive also raised at least $1,500, she said. By Monday, she said that the drive had brought in 160 packs, and a company from Lyndhurst was expected to deliver an additional 23 by that evening. She said that she would be bringing the packs to a distribution facility in Manhattan the next day.