Generous Hands’ Back to School Bonanza

The Bolenbaugh family spent a few minutes picking out the right backpacks: Sylvia (9), Zayna (8), Sara (7), Alaina (6).

By Madeline Fojtik, Generous Hands Board Member

Volunteers arrived early Saturday morning August 6, a steamy summer day, to set-up for our 15th Back to School Bonanza. The Bonanza is an annual event co-sponsored by Generous Hands and South County Community Services.

More than 30 staff and volunteers were ready to hand-out new backpacks for the school year. Excited children arrived to find several well-stocked tables with age-appropriate school supplies. Large press-seal bags were stuffed with folders, notebooks, pencils, pens, glue sticks, erasers, scissors, crayons, hand sanitizer and ear buds. Reusable plastic water bottles were also given to each child. Snacks were provided in a to-go bag for all. More than 200 children received backpacks and school supplies. Also available were clothing vouchers for the St. Martin Rummage sale. ChapNaz Community Clothes Closet was open for families to visit to pick out back-to-school clothes.

Elementary-aged kids had an opportunity to be measured for a new pair of athletic shoes by a staff member of First Day Shoe Fund, a nonprofit Kalamazoo organization. Shoes will be delivered to the school at the beginning of the school year. Generous Hands continues to partner with First Day Shoe Fund for the Backpack Bonanza. “They are an outstanding organization to work with,” said Sheri Louis, Executive Director of Generous Hands. 

A big hit this year was the popular craft table available to all families. Volunteers were available to help children make name lanyards to attach to their new backpacks. 

Meijer, one of our long-standing generous donors, provided $500 in gift cards toward purchase of school supplies for this year’s Bonanza. Area churches and businesses as well as many individuals collected or donated items for inclusion in this event.

“Generous Hands, Inc. truly appreciates the support of the community,” Louis said. “This event could not happen without the many donations and all of the caring volunteers.” At the end of the day, heartfelt stories were shared by our volunteers. A small girl and her sister arrived; she seemed very shy and overwhelmed. Emily, one of the volunteers, was passing out elementary supplies and noticed her hearing aids. She asked her about them, and they started to sign with each other. The little girl beamed and was able to choose the perfect set of school supplies. The story doesn’t end there: The First Day Shoe Fund picked right up on it and signed with her to measure her feet.

A boy about 10 years old was in the crowded tent where he became agitated. His mother and older brother were trying to help calm him. Volunteers gently helped him out of the tent and set him up at the craft table. Melissa, a volunteer, worked one-on-one with him to spell his name and make a lanyard. She didn’t do it for him—she helped him figure it out for himself. He was very focused and proud of his work. His mother beamed and told us how well he was going to do in school this year.

A middle school girl ran up to a colorful backpack and squealed with delight. She had seen the pack on GH’s Facebook page and was so happy that it was still there. 

In the parking lot, a little girl heading to her car with a silver, sparkly backpack on her back was overheard repeating over and over, “I love my new backpack, I just love my new backpack”!

For volunteer opportunities or anyone wanting to learn more about Generous Hands and the programs offered, please visit or contact Sheri Louis direct at 269-370-7965.

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