If you were to shimmy through Pantry Plus More’s Westover warehouse in the weeks before its annual Back to School Bash, you’d likely think the whole chaotic undertaking was headed for disaster.
Pallets and piles, boxes and bags — wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor with no apparent rhyme or reason. An ever-changing rotation of volunteers maneuvering through the cramped space, arranging and rearranging.
In the eye of that storm for the last five years has been event chairperson Amanda Bolyard.
This, she can do.
And she can tell you exactly why.
“I started my college career in WVU’s education program and I did some field work in school systems. I saw students who were not prepared for school. Because of that, they were not excited to be there. They didn’t want to learn. They were apprehensive to even talk because they were embarrassed,” she said. “It affected me so much that I left the program. It hurt and I was too sensitive for it, admittedly.”
If you can remove that stigma and let kids focus on learning instead of what they don’t have, you can take one small step in breaking the cycle of poverty.
That, she said, has been the driving force behind the Back to School Bash since 2018, when the first Bash was held at North Elementary School.
The 2023 event kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Mon County Center, located at 270 Mylan Park Lane.
It’s first-come, first-served, and while supplies last all Monongalia County Students Pre-K through 12th grade are welcome to peruse the mountains of backpacks, books, school supplies, hygiene products, socks, underwear and other back-to-school gear on offer.
The 2022 edition saw some 1,600 kids served. Bolyard said PPM is expecting at least that many again this year.
There will also be information and resources available from The Health Plan, Early Head Start, the Monongalia County Health Department, the Morgantown Library System and others.
Interpreters will be on-site to assist Spanish-speaking families.
Pulling the bash together is a year-round job taken on by volunteers, most of whom have jobs and kids of their own.
The efforts ramp up in June, when PPM starts buying up and organizing supplies purchased and provided through a list of event sponsors.
“It’s a lot of evenings and a lot of weekends here,” Bolyard said. “I never started my career in education. This is how I give back. I think about that one student who was so embarrassed that he didn’t even want to talk to me. He motivates me.”
While families can register on the day of the event, pre-registration is strongly encouraged.
Check out Pantry Plus More’s Facebook page for the pre-registration link as well as information on how to volunteer during the event or support the nonprofit through donations.