With bags stacked upon bags, and buckets filled with everything from notebooks to glue sticks, volunteers were adding the last item to the 1,250 student backpacks Thursday morning ó tennis shoes.
For more than a decade, the Destiny Worship Center church family has been reaching out to the community by providing backpacks, loaded with school supplies and a pair of tennis shoes, to those in the area.
"This is the highlight of my year," said Andria Delgado, who works at the church full-time and is heading up the Backpack 2 School program this year at Destiny. "Anything that has to do with community service I love."
"The supplies in each of the bags are completely different," Delgado said. Each backpack is tailored to the student and their needs for their particular grade and school.
"Everything is alphabetically organized," she said looking out over the room filled with bags. "It's the little details that matter," noting each bag is labeled with the studentís name, grade and school.
The Backpack 2 School program provides bags for students in about 20 schools, including Destin Elementary and Destin Middle School as well as all Walton County schools, and our "church family," Delgado said.
"We care for our church family in order to care for others," Delgado said.
The DWC family provides the backpacks because they believe in education.
"Education is the foundation of success in our society and one of the most effective ways for the enemy to bring poverty to people is to rob them from education," said Sanitago Rodriguez, Missions Pastor at DWC
Lead Pastor Steve Vaggalis began this effort 11 years ago to strengthen education in our community. "He doesn't want a lack of resources at home to be a reason for students to not begin their school year well," Rodriguez said.
Flyers are sent to all students before the school year ends about the program. Then in June, "We select a week where families bring the students to register them," Rodriguez said. "We don't turn people away that come to register because the invitation is to families that are currently struggling financially."
The backpack program started with about 28 bags that first year, said Shelia Guagliardo of DWC. Every year, the program has grown.
"We couldn't keep up with the demand," she said.
Now instead of individuals in the church buying certain supplies from a list to fill a backpack, the church family and others donate the funds to buy and fill the back packs. It costs about $50 to sponsor a backpack.
"We try to support our community by buying the supplies from local places," Guagliardo said.
Some of the business that DWC shops with to fill the bags include Nike, Reebok, New Balance at Silver Sands Premium Outlets, Walmart in Santa Rosa Beach and Office Depot in Destin. Silver Sands also provides the church with a building to use for the undertaking of packaging up of the bags.
Wayne Leon is the main shopper for the backpacks. "He orders supplies throughout the year," Delgado said.
And the supplies that are left over will roll over to next year.
"We don't set out just to give things away; we believe in education and we believe that any help these students can have to begin the school year with a sense of dignity and expectation is a success," Rodriguez said. "It is a privilege to assemble every backpack, to purchase every pair of shoes. It takes a lot of work and a lot of volunteer hours from many people but it is worth it."