NORTH ADAMS -- All Saints Church has put together backpacks full of school supplies to help area students in need of assistance.
The backpack project was the brainchild of Brian Grande, who was quick to suggest it to the outreach committee at All Saints Church, according to Lauren Norcross, church PR director.
"He's very keen on helping the children," Norcross said. "Brian loaded his car with 100 backpacks, went around to different schools and dropped them off."
However, the outreach committee estimated a greater need for the schools, ordering 200 backpacks, of which only 100 had been delivered as of early September. "Another local organization handed out backpacks two weeks before we did," explained Norcross, referring to the North Adams Coalition initiative to help students. "So, maybe the need was not as great when we were ready."
The need overall, however, remains large, which is what inspired Grande in the first place. While attending a friend's college going away party in Maryland, thrown by a church, Grande realized the depth of the challenges many students face.
"I did some investigating and found 30 or 40 kids over there go to school with no sneakers to wear," Grande said. "I did some research, back when St. Mark's and St. John's [churches] were separate, and the state of students in Berkshire County is pretty bad. ... We decided to go forward with the program four years ago."
The backpack project was done at St. Mark's Church in Adams for four years. Last year, St. Mark's and St. John's Church in North Adams merged to become All Saints Church.
"I was on the outreach committee, and my wife is on vestry," Grande said. "So, when we merged, this was one of the ideas I brought forward."
The Episcopalian Church Outreach Committee voted to use loose change donated to the Children's Fund, where there was about $1,000 extra. The outreach committee decided to acquire backpacks for the students, went online and ordered them fully packed with supplies.
"I went to Walmart and got a list of school supplies that each school was suggesting that students bring," Grande said. "When [the backpacks] arrived, my wife and I filled all the backpacks with scissors, tape, notebooks, protractors ... then I delivered a hundred of them. We did all the calling and everything to make sure the schools wanted to accept them, and they were more than grateful. There were three elementary schools in North Adams, one in Adams and one in Cheshire."
Grande has previously worked on a military shoebox program to send household items to Afghanistan as well as various food banks.
"I think people should know how bad it is out there," Grande said. "I don't want to be negative, but people need help in this area. We're just trying to help kids fulfill their futures. Over 80 percent of our parish is over the age of 60, and we really love kids."
Grande stressed the importance of the project.
"It's helping the kids and low-income families in our area who can't afford backpacks for their children, can barely afford to clothe their kids to get to school," he said. "This can release the burden of financial cost and help kids learn. They get a backpack, and nobody knows where it comes from."
"Our mission is to help people as much as we can. We've done projects with the community as far out as the Haiti project, but we wanted to do something local. We want to help the community. It doesn't cost the church that much, and outreach in the community is important for a church."
School administrators at any school in Northern Berkshire County can call the church at 664-9656 if they have students in need who might benefit from the donation of a backpack full of school supplies. There are still nearly 100 backpacks available.