GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — What started out as a simple effort to help kids properly start their school year has turned into a major community initiative, thanks to a mother with a big heart.
Angela Sharifsain got the idea last year to do a backpack giveaway. “I said, 'I’ll put it into plan' and just started buying backpacks last year," Sharifsain said. “Then I just kept seeing backpacks and I just kept buying backpacks.”
Before long, Sharifsain had gathered more than 200 backpacks and enough supplies to fill them. Her effort was mostly self-funded, boosted with contributions from Robinson Popcorn and Starbucks.
A block of Prince Street Southeast was closed off Saturday for Sharifsain's "Backpack Bash."
The backpacks were each filled with supplies to cater to the specific age of each student. There was something for everyone, from children in kindergarten to seniors in high school.
Sharifsain was a foster parent for more than 20 years, so she knows kids need more than school supplies to feel confident in the classroom. That's why she made sure to include hygiene products in the backpacks, too. “We want the kids to go to school and be fresh and ready for school," she said.
Along with a bounce house, food and a mobile zoo with exotic animals, kids at the event also got a lesson in compassion. Zenia Bates, the founder of the Compassionate Awareness Autism Center, was present with coloring books and conversation about understanding autism.
“They’ll be more equipped to go into schools and to foster a sense of community among those who are different," Bates said. “I thought it was great that (Sharifsain) was doing this and that she allowed our autism center, Compassionate Awareness Autism Center, to come and partner so that we’d have a holistic approach to sending the kids back to school.”
Sharifsain said she hopes to do the event again next year to reach more children.