Social work students collect school supplies for community

By Brydon Marks on November 13, 2007

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Fiona Bullock, assistant professor of social work, is proud to display the most mismatched set of backpacks ever collected. There are twenty-five of them, each of vastly different shape, size, and color. Pastels, earth tones, and vibrant, basic colors lie jumbled together like a box of crayons kicked onto the floor. Duffel bags, gym bags, and back-packs are equally thrown into the heap. The casual observer would never associate these bags with one another and that is the whole idea.

These bags were not collected to be a fashion statement, but a covert operation. They will be given out in secret and were chosen so that-when seen trundling around a school next year, slung over shoulders and jammed into lockers-no one will ever know where they came from. Neither will they know about the school supplies and health items that once filled these bags.

The motley collection is only part of "The Backpack Project," the final project of six seniors graduating from Pacific Union College this June with degrees in social work. The students have worked all year with Angwin Adventist Community Services to raise funds and supplies, and in August will give the fully stocked packs to 25 students in the Angwin and Pope Valley areas. The recepients of the packs are students in high-schools and elementary schools, 5-15, who may have difficulty purchasing school supplies and personal care items.

"There is certainly a need up here that many people aren't aware of," Bullock says, citing the high cost of living in the Napa Valley as a major hardship for many of its residents. All of the students who will receive backpacks come from low-income families in one of the most expensive regions in the country.

The social work majors are producing "The Backpack Project" for their practice class in community organization. The class teaches them how to work within their communities to address and solve problems, such as the need of many families in the area for basic school supplies. While the students organized bake sales and car washes, they were also busy writing radio spots, giving speeches, preparing time-tables, rallying support from local businesses, and performing other important fund-raising tasks.

Fiona Bullock, the class' teacher, has supervised similar student projects every year. She says, "The Angwin community is very responsive when they hear about a need. The students did a terrific job, and the community really came through. We've been very happy about that."

The backpacks are filled with items from the community. Each has a certificate for a free haircut, donated by Jeannie's Studio of Creative Hair Design, Wine Country Styling Salon, and Le Malnage Academy. Dental care packs were donated by Dr. Darlene Hemmerlin. Funding from St. Helena Hospital, Angwin Adventist Community Services, and faculty members purchased calculators, pencils, paper, and notebooks, as well as personal care items and gift-certificates to local stores. For the younger children there were crayons, storybooks, and coloring books. For the older, there were rulers, geometry kits, and binders. Community members also donated some of the supplies, and Pacific Union College's students were asked to leave behind unused school supplies when they left for the summer.

"We are providing school supplies," Bullock says. "But we're also giving these kids a fresh start for the new year."

The PUC students who raised the funding and put these packs together did so while working forty hours a week. They worked in unpaid internships at local organizations including juvenile probation, juvenile hall, child protective services, St. Helena Hospital, Child or Parent Emergency Services, and local elementary and high schools. All of them are preparing for careers in social work.

Bullock says of the students' work, "We think of ministry to people in a variety of ways, and what these students are doing is one of them. Some of our teachers have called it applied theology."