July 30, 2012
By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
For 9-year-old Olivia, an incoming fourth-grader at Constitution Elementary School in Phoenix, the red and silver bracelet was her favorite.
The handmade item from Stitches of Love was one of many pieces of merchandise Olivia and thousands of students in metro Phoenix brought home as part of the Back to School Clothing Drive being held at GCU Arena.
The $1.8 million program matches up nearly 6,000 students ages 5-11 from Title I schools with back-to-school items that amount to $300 in merchandise for each student.
|"I know the good it does for these families," said Karl Gentles, executive director of the Back to School Clothing Drive. "Our staff and volunteers are so immensely committed to this."
Roughly 2,500 volunteers help throughout the weeklong event, which began last Thursday. The students, in first through sixth grades, are pre-selected by the 140 schools in 30 school districts that partner with the Back to School Clothing Drive, which is in its 17th year and is the largest in the state.
Each student is paired with a volunteer, who helps the student with his or her shopping at different stations throughout the Arena.
Each child receives two pairs of shorts/skirts;
two polo shirts (one white and one in their school color); three pair of socks; three pair of underwear; a backpack; belt; pair of sneakers; an item from Stitches of Love; and school supplies such as pencils, paper, rulers, erasers, glue, crayons, colored pencils, a book and a pouch filled with dental hygiene items.
The idea behind it is that every child should feel the pride and self-confidence from wearing a new outfit to school.
This is the first year the event has been held at the Arena, which Gentles said has opened up even more possibilities.
"Having it here is a huge plus for us. It will allow us to serve even more kids and expand what we do."
A new addition this year is the Learning Zone, which features different experiences each day. There was a huge albino python on exhibit one day; the Desert Botanical Garden had a bat display; Phoenix Police had a CSI exhibit; the Phoenix Fire Department was on site on Monday; there have been mascot appearances by the Phoenix Suns Gorilla, the Phoenix Mercury's Scorch and GCU's own Thunder; and the GCU College of Nursing helped out one day by checking students' height, weight and pulse and letting them listen to their heartbeat.
"We're really excited to be here," Gentles said. "In addition to being in the Arena, it kind of closes the loop between preparing them for school today and seeking a higher education tomorrow. In many cases this is their first exposure to a university."
An unrelated back-to-school drive for supplies was conducted among GCU employees and concluded on Monday.
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.