Young Professional Backpack Program Preps for New School Year



Kathy Clayton

The Ashland Beacon


   Even with the uncertainty about how school will look this fall, students will still need school supplies, and the Ashland Alliance Young Professionals group is again stepping in to help children in need.

   “This is different from the usual back-to-school supply or clothing drive,” said Amanda Gillum, Young Professionals director. “We want each kid to look forward to going back to school.” The backpack program selects pants/jeans and shoes as well as school supplies.

   “We meet with the school resource centers and get a card with the child’s clothing and shoe sizes, and a list of school supplies needed,” Gillum explained. “But we also get their favorite colors, maybe a character that they like. We try to make it as personal as possible, because we want them to be as excited as possible, with new clothes, new shoes, new backpack, and the supplies they need. We want to even the playing field.”

   Gillum said the program has been going on for 15-20 years. “Before I was in this position, someone in the group saw the need for kids in our area that needed help with supplies and clothes.” She said the group works with schools in the Ashland, Boyd County, Greenup County, Fairview, and Raceland school districts. In the past, Russell has also been included, but they did not have the need this year.

   “Things are different this year, because of the Covid crisis,” Gillum explained. In the past the organization has been able to help 800 to 1000 students. This year, 161 kids in kindergarten through fifth grade will receive the backpacks filled with clothes, shoes and supplies. “Some of our business sponsors have been closed because of Covid so the funds have not been there.” The uncertainty about how school will look has played a part. She said they also used to include some middle school age kids.

   “We try to get individuals or groups to tell us how many they are willing to sponsor,” Gillum said. “We also accept donations to help with any left without sponsors. “In each backpack, we include a shirt, pants, shoes, and the supplies for that school – notebooks, folders, crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks – whatever is on the list. Depending on what kind of shopper you are, the cost will be $60 to $100. The Young Professionals will meet at Walmart and shop until all the kids that we took as sponsors have everything they need.”

   Filled backpacks can be dropped off at the Alliance office on Winchester Avenue, where secretary/receptionist Missy McCalvin gets to work organizing them. “She’s my right-hand person,” Gillum said. “She goes through them, finds the cards, separates them into groups by school, then the school resource officers will pick them up.

   She said that more children could possibly be added to this year’s list. “We may end up with more, it just depends on how and when schools reopen. This year, it was hard for the schools to contact kids to get their sizes. We can always use donations. Any extra will be applied to next year. We hope that next year, we’ll be back up and thriving, and can help more kids.”

   Anyone wishing to make a donation can contact Missy McCalvin at the Ashland Alliance, 606.324.5111, or Gillum at 606.923.9091. The Ashland Alliance Young Professionals is led by President Ryan Reames.

   “Our hope is that one day, the kids we’ve been able to help will come back and join us in giving back to their schools. Our goal is to help our youth and help grow our community,” Gillum said.