Giggles, happy tears, and smiles filled the room on August 3 at the Greater Tulsa Association of Realtors (GTAR) Backpack for Kids party where children picked up their backpacks and enjoyed free ice cream, pizza, a photo booth and more.
Since 2006 GTAR has partnered with Family & Children’s Services to link children with the greatest need for back-to-school backpacks filled with toiletries, shoes, shirts and pants. Each backpack costs around $75. When the program began, 100 children received backpacks. This year, the group put together 503 backpacks.
Backpacks for Kids was born because GTAR wanted to help their community, and Shelley Carson, a member of the GTAR Association, had the vision for providing needed items for kids going back to school that wasn’t a handout, but a hand up. It was when she was introduced to Family and Children’s Services Senior Program Director Crystal Houck that the idea took off.
The program is designed to help kids have confidence for school. As a mother of two, Carson knows the importance of walking into the first day of school with new supplies and clothing; unfortunately, many of the children served by this program have never had that experience.
Not only is the project supported by Tulsa area realtors and local businesses, but sponsors are a big part of the party – Ethan Monroe Salon provided haircuts, Blue Bell donated ice cream, Papa Johns gave away over 1,400 slices of pizza and the Channel 6 weather team were there. Houck said, “The party is amazing. This year’s theme is superheroes. The GTAR folks are so kind, and they welcome each and every family warmly.”
Carson remembered a year when a caseworker waited through the entire event for a client to show up to pick up his backpack. She recalled, “As the party came to a close, the caseworker left with the backpack knowing she would give it to her client at a later date. A few minutes later, the family pulls up, and the child’s mom tells us, ‘our car wouldn’t start!’ The boy asked, ‘Where are the clowns? Where are the balloons?’ We were heartbroken for him.”
Carson’s labor of love resulted in giving the family money for gas and a run to Walmart. “He didn’t even have shoes on. He came here because he knew he would be receiving brand-new shoes. That was a sign for us that we have to keep going. We can’t not do this. It’s very labor intensive and it falls on about five of us, but once we see the outcome, it’s so worth it.”
Providing so many filled backpacks is no small task. GTAR members raise funds throughout the year with a golf tournament and other events. The money is raised through fundraisers and generous donations. “There is no one person writing one big check. It is a group effort and it’s hard work,” Carson said.
Houck expressed her gratitude for GTAR, “We have done this with GTAR since 2006. The realtors make sure that each child has an outfit – shirt and jeans or a uniform, shoes, underwear and hygiene items. These are things that many families struggle to purchase at the beginning of a school year. I would like the community to know that the volunteers with GTAR are gracious and generous! We are so very lucky that they continue providing this for families over the last 11 years!”
For more information about GTAR’s Backpacks for Kids, click here.
GTAR 2016 Backpack for Kids recap video: