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Big Backpack Event will be held curbside this July

By Staff | May 21, 2020

The Big Backpack Event will return for its 21st annual year at the end of July, with new experiences to accommodate social distancing, at the Fort Myers Skatium.

CONRIC PR & Marketing President Connie Ramos-Williams said she is glad The Multicultural Centre of Southwest Florida is able to hold the event, especially this year, as so many parents have fallen on financial hardship with COVID-19 and high unemployment numbers.

“The thought of canceling was definitely something we did not want to do because of the tremendous need of the community,” Ramos-Williams said. “Even if school doesn’t start on time in the fall and they choose to learn from home, they still need paper and writing utensils.”

With distance learning there is some excitement about returning to school, which is another reason the Big Backpack Event is being held, as a celebration for school.

“Receiving these things helps to bring that hope and excitement,” Ramos-Williams said.

The 21st annual Big Backpack Event, which is held for Lee County school children between the ages of 5 and 12 years old, will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, July 26, at the Fort Myers Skatium, 2250 Broadway. The Big Backpack Event will supply the first 2,000 children with new backpacks filled with pencils, pens, paper, crayons, folders and other essential back-to-school items.

“Our mission is to help Lee County school children of all cultures start the new school year with confidence and pride as they arrive back to school with new backpacks and school supplies,” Multicultural Centre of Southwest Florida Executive Director Leonardo Garcia said in a prepared statement. “Every $10 donated provides a child with a new backpack and school supplies and we are so grateful to everyone who makes it possible for us to host this event to support thousands of kids and families.”

This year, instead of students and their families entering the Skatium to pick out their backpack and school supplies, the student and their parents, will experience the Big Backpack Event curbside. The student will have to be present to receive supplies.

Ramos-Williams said they are looking at mapping out which streets the cars are traveling to the Skatium to allow the event to move relatively quickly. She said they are meeting with the City of Fort Myers, Fort Myers Police Department and someone with the Department of Transportation to cover the logistics of how this large car pool line is going to work.

Attendees, parents and students, will remain in their vehicles as they approach the Skatium to receive their free school supplies.

As the line of cars waits to receive their goodies, Ramos-Williams said there will be such entertainers as jugglers, clowns and mascots, DJs, live music and emcees from TV stations, along the carline and sidewalks to keep the kids entertained.

“It will be a nice vibe for when they get there,” she said. “It will be a positive, exciting event regardless of not being able to get out.”

She said once the vehicles are in front of the Skatium there will be two, or three stations set up. The volunteers handing out the supplies will be wearing fun masks, as well as wearing gloves.

The first station will entail backpacks full of school supplies and trinkets. The second station will most likely be a food station complete with some sort of snack food, or food they can take home. The third station, if possible, will tote such things as card games and coloring material to keep the children entertained as they quarantine during the summer.

The event is to “make sure kids get everything they need and then some,” Ramos-Williams said

The event also will provide support for families that do not have transportation and arrive by foot from the surrounding neighborhoods, or by bus. She said on the other side of the car line they are able to create a pedestrian area that will keep individuals spaced six feet apart to continue social distancing.

“There is enough space that we should be able to create a nice path for them to come and go,” Ramos-Williams said of the pedestrian area where volunteers will be wearing masks and gloves. “We would love for the families to wear masks as well. We will have everything safely distanced and volunteers manning the lines will help control those things, too.”

She said in years past, as well as this year, the most important thing is helping the families and students that need a helping hand. In the event’s 20-year span, nearly 40,000 backpacks have been distributed to families. Every year close to 5,000 people attend the event, with the largest crowd in 2008 with 15,000 people.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 80 percent of Lee County children qualified for free, or reduced meal programs at school.

“I can already envision the kids faces of smiles,” Ramos-Williams said.

For more information, or to become a sponsor or volunteer, visit www.multicultural-centre.org, or email info@multicultural-centre.org.