For the past 18 years, the Homeless Prevention Council has sponsored the Backpack-to-School program, which provides school supplies and backpacks to students in the eight Lower Cape towns. The program's 19th year, however, is unprecedented.
“We're all in this unknown place, trying to work together to come up with a solution,” said HPC Chief Executive Officer Hadley Luddy.
This year the agency is partnering with the Nauset Rotary Club, the Orleans Police Department and Staples to help meet the needs of students returning to classrooms for the first time since the pandemic began in March. School supplies now include more than just the traditional school supplies; face masks, sanitizer and wipes are needed, and HPC is also making sure students have adequate headsets, since most will be experiencing some form of remote learning.
Hadley said the agency anticipates more participants in the program this year due to the financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic. As of early this week, more than 100 students in kindergarten through high school had signed up. “We expect it to be much larger than that number,” she said. The program usually provides supplies to about 200 students. Students in Brewster, Chatham, Eastham, Harwich, Orleans, Provincetown, Truro and Wellfleet are eligible to participate.
The program not only supplies backpacks to students who need them, it also provides general school supplies based on each student's needs. That's also different this year, as some schools have yet to provide the agency with list of supplies students will need, Luddy said.
Along with the headsets and masks, the program this year is getting special lunch boxes for students that can be kept in the refrigerator and help keep homemade lunches cool when brought to school. With cafeteria offerings expected to be limited, Luddy said it's likely that more students will be taking their lunch to school.
This year the Nauset Rotary Club is also raising funds to provide students who need them with gift cards to buy sneakers. “We are actively raising funds to be able to support that effort,” Luddy said.
An HPC volunteer will also be at the Orleans Stapes store weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to collect donations; there is also a bin at the store where donations can be left at other times, Luddy said. Collection bins are also available at HPC's office at 14 Old Tote Rd. in Orleans and at the Orleans Police Department.
Backpacks are being assembled in the community room of the police department, where a small group of volunteers will be working, following social distancing protocols, she said. Families will be scheduled to pick up the supplies on Sept. 1 and 2.
A major benefit of the program this year is that it has allowed HPC to connect to families who may need additional services. When a family registers for the backpack program, they are connected to one of five case managers (one of whom speaks Spanish) who will not only help determine children's school supply needs, but will determine if families can benefit from other social services programs, such as housing assistance and other community resources, which Luddy calls “A to Z comprehensive case management.”
“That's been a positive side,” she said. “It's a nice entry into working with us. We're finding many people are welcoming the help.” Some just want a sympathetic ear to listen to them vent. “Anyone in need of support or with questions on how to access various services or support is really encouraged to give HPC a call.”
To contribute to the Backpack program, visit www.hpccapecod.org or send a check to Homeless Prevention Council, Box 828, Orleans, MA 02653. General donations are best, Luddy said, as that “allows us to buy the supplies we need” to suit individual requirements.
Families in the eight Lower Cape towns who need back-to-school support for their children can call HPC at 508-255-9667 and ask for the case manager of the day. Visit the agency's website at www.hpccapecod.org for more information.