With school a mere two weeks away, Linda Ives and the Ravalli County Salvation Army want to make sure Bitterroot Valley kids begin the school year prepared.
The annual Tools for Schools program, which provides backpacks full of school supplies to needy children, is underway and still taking applications.
So far, about 150 kids are signed up to receive new backpacks. Ives said the deadline for applications, which was originally Friday, will be extended into next week to make sure they give away each and every backpack.
While Ives wasn't sure the exact number of backpacks the Salvation Army will be doling out this year, she said last year both the Missoula and Ravalli County organizations gave out more than 500 backpacks, with just under 200 of those in the Bitterroot.
"And I'm sure they will have that number again," said Ives, community resources coordinator for the Ravalli County Salvation Army.
Backpacks are given to schoolchildren ranging from kindergarten all the way to seniors in high school. The backpacks are stuffed with age-appropriate school supplies for elementary, middle and high school students.
"They're not set up according to individual school needs, but they do take into account the age of the children and their general needs," Ives said.
The application process is simple, Ives said. If families qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, they qualify for a backpack. The application is only one front-and-back page and they ask for a copy of a recent food stamp purchase.
"We try to make it as easy as possible," she said.
All backpacks are new, purchased at a discount price. Thanks to donations from the community, each backpack and all the supplies that fit inside cost the Salvation Army just $20.
"And the value of the backpack is much higher than that," Ives said.
Ives said, while donations may be down, many people have been stepping up to help keep this program going.
"A lot of donations are from individual people. Just today, I had a lady donate $100 to the program. The Salvation Army, just like anybody else right now, is suffering from the slow economy so donations are down."
Ravalli County has been hit hard by the economic downturn, so many families are in need of these school supplies this year, Ives said.
"Jobs are hard to come by, therefore earned income is hard to come by and families need all the help they can get," Ives said.
Ives added that in the Bitterroot, many jobs aren't year-long, so families must spread out their funds over a long time period.
"We're in a very rural environment and many jobs are seasonal. Families have to plan over a long term for whatever income they do have," she said.
The Salvation Army will be accepting applications into next week. Backpacks can be picked up between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Aug. 22-26. Residents of the North Valley area are asked to contact Pantry Partners in Stevensville.
For applications, contact the Salvation Army in the Human Resource Council building at 316 N. Third Street, Suite 161 in Hamilton or call 363-6101, ext. 248.
Reach reporter Whitney Bermes at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.