Hundreds sweat it out stuffing backpacks so kids with less go back to school with more

Back2School is outreach program based in Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – On Tuesday night volunteers with a faith-based nonprofit in Southside Virginia put in a lot of sweat equity to help others.

About 300 volunteers packed backpacks to make sure kids across Virginia, the Carolinas and even Texas start the school year on the right foot. The group is celebrating 13 years this year, and it has proven that it's got this down to a science.

When you walk up to the expansive warehouse facility, you're relieved to see there's someone in charge shouting out directions over a microphone because this setup is a whole lot of crazy. Volunteers like Mike Sirt are right in the thick of it, and when the community donates so many items for you to pack, there's very little time to press pause for an interview.

"There's probably 300 or more people here giving their time," Sirt said. "This is just another way to express ourselves as Christians and to be good disciples for Jesus Christ."

The Back2School Outreach collects donations through the summer and then organizes them all and prepares them to be stuffed into backpacks. The entire setup, from the back of the long line of volunteers waiting to go through the assembly line to the waiting buses and trailers on the other end, stretches more than a football field.

Katie Whitlow is the program's director and said this year may just be their best year yet.

"We have almost more volunteers than we know what to do with, which is a great problem to have," Whitlow said.

The volunteers, most of them coming with their churches, pack backpacks full of paper, pens and more for students ranging from preschool to high school.

"Preparing to go back to schools is hard for families. A lot of families here are underserved. They have a lot of needs, and it creates a financial burden, especially when you have more than one child," Whitlow said. "So we're hoping to meet that need and also give a lot of love."

The cars, buses and trucks literally roll of the line stuffed to the brim. This year the group expects to deliver about 4,000 backpacks, a record amount. Over the course of the 13-year program, Whitlow said they've served more than 25,000 kids and their families.

"Our goal is to keep growing the program so we can reach more families and serve their needs," Whitlow said.

Despite working outside in the heat, volunteers found the energy to keep pushing through. When they see the backpacks pile high, it's the proof that they are doing good for others.

"I can't imagine the number of children that we're actually touching, not only in our community, but nationwide," Sirt said.

And despite all the crazy, it all starts right here at home. The backpacks will be distributed Saturday to families who have preregistered to receive them.