New backpacks, fresh supplies help students prepare for school...

Story by John Iwasaki

Cars and shoppers usually fill the parking lot of Red Apple Market, a bustling grocery store in Seattle's Central District. But with school starting in less than two weeks, a crowd spreads over the asphalt on a balmy Saturday for a different reason.

Maria (in lavender) brought her daughter and four nieces and nephews to a distribution of free backpacks and school supplies in Seattle. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt)

Children line up with their parents to receive free backpacks loaded with school supplies. Some chat about the pro basketball players from the Seattle area—like Brandon Roy, a former NBA superstar—who return to join World Vision in this and other local back-to-school events.

Getting backpacks for her children "makes it a lot easier for us," says Elizabeth, a mother of four, as she waits for the distribution to begin beneath a white tent in the parking lot.

"When I looked at the list [of supplies required by her children's school], I just about cried, I'll be honest with you. This especially helps people who are low income like my husband and I."

Two of their children, who range in age from 2 to 8, deal with muscular dystrophy. A third has a mild case of cerebral palsy.

"We're doing what we can to survive," says Ronald, Elizabeth's husband. "We don't even have a vehicle right now."

In 2012, World Vision distributed 33,667 backpacks with school supplies to U.S. children in need. That number is expected to climb to nearly 35,000 this year.

Lucas holds his new backpack as he sits with his mother, Nelly, following the New York distribution. (Photo: Sigfrido Jeff Padilla)

The back-to-school giveaway at Red Apple Market is one of four in the Seattle area in late August. Other distributions include events in the Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C., areas.

The backpacks are filled with supplies like binders, notebooks, pencils, markers, rulers, and glue sticks.

"This really is a blessing," says Nelly, a mom who brought her 11-year-old son, Lucas, to the New York event at World Vision's warehouse in the Bronx.

"This is one less thing that I have to worry about getting for him. I feel a lot better knowing that he has a good head start for this new school year. Thank you so much for your kindness. This really means a lot."

Students at several schools that received supplies in the Washington, D.C., area echoed that sentiment.

"I'm glad we have been given new school supplies," says Marcus, a sixth-grader in Prince George's County, Maryland.

"That helps us get off to a great start and do well in class. I think the gift was amazingly fun and thoughtful."

Back in Seattle, DeShawn and Jetta wait in line with their three children, including 10-year-old twins.

"We're in between jobs right now and needed some help," Jetta says. "We calculated that for the three of them, [the required supplies] would be almost $250."

Michael Worsley, a World Vision engagement officer, hands a backpack to a student in the Washington, D.C., area. (Photo courtesy of Arthur Thompson)

Their oldest child, Je'Tia, can't wait to use her new supplies. "I'm excited to learn new things," says the 12-year-old girl, who likes art and math.

Mike Moss, manager of the Red Apple Market, says life is "not always about taking. Sometimes it's about giving back. This is the funnest thing we do all year. We couldn't do it without World Vision."

The Seattle distribution attracts moms like Maria, who brought her daughter and four nieces and nephews.

"We're living paycheck to paycheck," she says. "It makes me tear up to think my girl couldn't get new school supplies. We'd have to scrape up school supplies from last year."

A week earlier at Valley Ridge Park in SeaTac, a suburb of Seattle, World Vision worked with partners to distribute backpacks at a similar back-to-school fair.

Among those in line on the rainy day were 8-year-old Emmanuel and his mom. Receiving a backpack and school supplies will not only help him start third grade. It will also help his cramped toes.

"The old backpack I had was ripped," Emmanuel says. "It's nice to get brand-new stuff." With the money his mom saved, he says, she "can buy different stuff."

Like new shoes for him.

Verenice says the backpack and school supplies she received in SeaTac, Washington, will "keep me organized." (Photo: Laura Reinhardt)

"I was really worried about how I was able to get school supplies," says Emmanuel's mom, Maria. "We didn't have the money. I was not sure how I was going to do it. Now I can use the money to buy his clothes. His shoes squish his feet."

Another mom, Carmen, arrived at the park at 6 a.m.—four hours before the event started—to make sure her 6-year-old daughter, Alexia, didn't miss out.

"With the economy the way it is right now, it's so hard," Carmen says. "This is something less to worry about for school."

Alexia, a first-grader who likes reading and art, chose a purple backpack to match her jacket.

Nearby with another family, 13-year-old Verenice unzips her pink backpack and examines the binder, notebooks, pens, pocket calculator, and other supplies.

"It'll keep me organized," she says. "I can do things easier."

Edgar, one of five children in another family, expresses deep thanks to donors.

"It's good to be helping us," says the 11-year-old boy, "and one day, I will repay you."