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An army of volunteers pulling together Back to School Bash with community support

MORGANTOWN — It’s Friday afternoon.

T-minus eight days until Pantry Plus More’s fifth annual Back to School Bash, to be held Saturday at the Mountaineer Mall. 

To say the nonprofit’s Westover central hub is the definition of organized chaos would be playing fast and loose with definitions. 

But in among the mountains of books, backpacks, schools supplies and hygiene items, Amanda Bolyard and Sandy Clark are at work — just two of the scores of volunteers who’ve spent months pulling together an event expected to serve upwards of 1,600 of the counties school-age children and their families.

Like last year, the Bash will be a largely drive-through event due to COVID-19, though this year offerings like dental exams, courtesy of the Monongalia County Health Department,  and food boxes from the Mountaineer Food Bank will return. 

In addition, the MCHD will also have Pfizer COVID vaccines on offer for those 12-and-up.

Also like last year, kids with last names starting with A-M should arrive between 10 a.m.- 1 p.m. Those with last names starting with N-Z, between 1 p.m.- 4 p.m.

“We’re open to every Monongalia County student regardless of economic status. We don’t ask that information,” explained Bolyard, one of the event’s primary organizers. “You’ll drive through and receive a fully packed hygiene bag and fully packed backpack, free of charge.”

Because if kids aren’t worrying about what they have or don’t have, they can focus on education.

“The number one goal of Pantry Plus More is to end childhood hunger and a big part of that is getting a good education,” Bolyard said. “Education is the path out of poverty.” 

Christine Wang, who serves as a board advisor and overall catchall for the program, explained further. 

“We’re just committed to making sure all these kids have a chance. We want to give them hope and opportunity. It’s not just about feeding them, but building their self-esteem and getting rid of that despair,” she said. “To have brand new things and be ready on that first day to step into school looking like all the other kids is important. We want to give every kid that fresh start.” 

Along with probably 150 volunteers on hand the day of the event, both Bolyard and Wang said the Bash wouldn’t be possible without the support of the community, including the Mylan Puskar Foundation, Mountaineer Food Bank, Mon Health, North Elementary and Carol Atkins, of City Neon, who donates the space the nonprofit is based in. 

A space that’ll be a hive of activity for the next six days or so.

“It really is something, for a group of all volunteers, what we take on,” Wang said. “Sometimes I think we’re crazy.”

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