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Bash helps Grand Island families prepare for Back2School

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Many families wait outside of the O’Connor Learning Center on Friday afternoon for GIPS’s annual Back to School Bash, an event that offers necessities needed for returning to school ranging from backpacks to immunization shots.

Many families gathered at O'Connor Learning Center on Friday afternoon for GIPS's annual Back to School Bash. The event offered necessities needed for returning to school, ranging from backpacks to immunization shots.

Getting back to school requires a lot of resources, but help was at the ready Friday at the annual Back2School Bash.

Grand Island Public School’s Families in Transition had the event at the district’s O’Connor Early Learning Center, with numerous businesses, nonprofits and other organizations ready to fulfill the needs of those who might struggle getting back to school essentials like school supplies and clothing.

The event benefits residents of Hall, Howard, Hamilton and Merrick counties by providing back-to-school essentials from haircuts to backpacks.

Holly Boeselager is the coordinator of GIPS Families in Transition. She said the event, which has been a community staple for decades, is geared towards families who are struggling financially.

“We give out free resources such as haircuts, clothing… we have different agencies here that can help give them resources that they might need,” she said.

The event, which started at 3 p.m., had a strong, steady line of families stretching down O’Connor Early Learning Center’s sidewalk by 2:30 p.m.

Indoors, smiling faces and helping hands lined O’Connor’s hallways, including Maria Vasquez and Elda Martinez from the GIPS Migrant Education Program.

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Janice Kutilek, a member of 3rd City Christian Church’s Garden of Hope sets out freshly grown vegetables for students and families attending GIPS’s annual Back to School Bash.

The Migrant Education Program team provides educational support, like tutoring, in effort to aid the community’s migrant youth.

The Migrant Education Program table was filled with freebies, like books, but the ultimate goal, Vasquez said, was to promote the program and the services it offers.

“We hope to expand our program and get the word out a little bit more. We have families in the community that don’t necessarily qualify, but they might know someone that does. That’s our goal right now… to get the word out,” Vasquez said.

“It gives us the opportunity to meet those families,” Martinez added.

Central District Health Department was on-hand to give back-to-school vaccinations. Trinity United Methodist Church was also among the many that offered volunteers. Area businesses contributed as well.

Brian Whitecalf, anti-poverty liaison for GIPS, has been at the Back2School Bash the last five years.

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Volunteers Linda Clark (left) and Sue Yaunk prepare to hand out free backpacks for underprivileged students at Grand Island Public School's Back to School Bash hosted at O'Connor Learning Center.

In his role at GIPS, Whitecalf sees students’ needs — and those of their families — on a regular basis.

“With everything going on the economy, families are struggling.”

Whitecalf said he can relate to the Back2School Bash visitors.

“I’m a child of a single parent, and my mom would have been here if I was in school,” he said. “I really want to give back to kids that are with just like me.”

Indications are many, many organizations and individuals want to give back, too.

Among them, Third City Christian Church donated produce from their community garden. Salvation Army parked their truck in O’Connor Early Learning Center’s parking lot, offering their help.

Vasquez said the Back2School Bash is an opportunity for service providers to come together to help families in need.

“It’s good for families too,” she said. “They have somewhere they can go and get everything.”

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Many items of clothing ranging multiple sizes were donated for underprivileged students and their families at Grand Island Public Schools' Back to School Bash, hosted at the O'Connor Learning Center on Friday afternoon.

Boeselager couldn’t give an exact number of people, families or children who walked into O’Connor Early Learning Center empty handed, and exited much more ready for the 2022-2023 school year.

Success is measured, in part, by backpacks, Boeselager indicated.

“We’ve been giving out 1,000 backpacks the last three years,” she said. “The last couple of years we’ve gotten rid of them in an hour. So we’ll see how fast it goes today.”

Based on the rows backpacks inside and the line of families shaded outside by bright purple awning, this year will be another successful event.

“This is this is like a one stop shop for all families,” Vasquez said. “They can come and get all they need to prepare for returning back to school.”

Whitecalf said, “A lot of families need the extra help. The donations… this year have been more than the last two years. I think people are recognizing the need.”

Vasquez is one of those people. Asked how important the long-running annual Back2School Bash is to the community, she said:

“It’s important. Very important.”

Jessica Votipka is the education reporter at the Grand Island Independent. She can be reached at 308-381-5420.

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Jessica Votipka is the education reporter at the Grand Island Independent. She can be reached at 308-381-5420

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