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Back-to-school bash

Pantry Plus More event plans to hand out 1,600 backpacks

Like most things about 2020, the fourth annual Pantry Plus More Back to School Bash is going to be a bit different.

 Actually, it’s going to be a lot different — but it’s happening nonetheless.

Normally a sprawling event at North Elementary, this year’s bash will be a drive-thru affair Saturday at the old Mountaineer Mall, off Green Bag Road.

“Nothing is normal. Such is life right now, but we’re still really committed to serving the community,” Bash co-chair Amanda Bolyard said Tuesday afternoon while volunteers worked to pack  backpacks with school supplies and hygiene products at Pantry Plus More’s Westover storage facility.

Students with a last name starting with A-M will be served from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and students with names beginning with N-Z  can come through from 1-4 p.m. Parents will  need to provide the child’s name, address, phone number, school and grade, but no documentation is required.

Last year’s bash served some 800 students. Bolyard said the Pantry Plus More program is prepared to hand out as many as 1,600 to 1,800 backpacks on Saturday and beyond.

“It’s such an unknown time right now with COVID and loss of income,” she said. “There are so many people in need and there are a lot of people who aren’t used to being in need.” 

Bella Black, Kate Meldrum, and Kate Capitan pack school supplies for the Back-To-School Bash Tuesday.

She lamented that services like free haircuts and eye and dental exams aren’t possible this year. She also said a big part of the event is always watching the kids pick their own backpacks, folders and other supplies. This year, everything will be handed out pre-packed.

“Every year this event has gotten better, but this year we’ve really had to compromise to be able to serve the community and still remain safe,” Bolyard said.

In the meantime, there’s a lot of work to do. 

But volunteers like Olivia Martinelli are on the job.

The senior physical education major was busy Tuesday packing hygiene bags with some of her teammates on the WVU Women’s Rowing team.

“I thought this would be a great thing to maybe help get more involved with the schools and also help out some kids who can use this stuff,” Martinelli said, gesturing to the mountains of backpacks and hygiene products. “This is amazing.”

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james packs backpacks
James Deng packs school supplies in backpacks.