Francisco Garza-Ortiz has seen how valuable a backpack filled with basic supplies can be for a child in the process of finding a new home.
Garza-Ortiz, a Family and Children Advocate for the Denver Human Services department, knows that a care package filled with seemingly simple items like school supplies, books, toys and even essential hygiene supplies can make a world of difference when a child is entering the foster care system.
"When they receive the bag, it becomes like a home to them," Garza-Ortiz said. "They really take these bags to heart, and it becomes a part of their life while they're going through the process of foster care."
Garza-Ortiz was on hand at Campus Middle School on Feb. 17 to pick up a truckload of baby supplies – diapers, clothes and other essentials – donated as part of a larger community campaign that's grown substantially in the past 12 months.
For the second year in a row, Campus Middle School students and community members have come together to prepare hundreds of backpack care kits for kids in foster programs across the Denver metro area. Like last year, students from the school volunteered their time and resources to put together hundreds of these backpacks, sacks filled with supplies ranging from children's books to shampoo and soap. Like last year, these backpacks are bound for hundreds of needy foster kids from across the metro area.
Unlike last year, the whole school participated in putting together these care packages. What started in 2017 as the campaign of a single seventh-grade team has blossomed into a community effort. Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students joined parents and community members in putting the backpacks together. In the lead-up to the delivery of the care packages in February, students took part in contests to raise funds and resources and participated in a dodgeball game that raised approximately $2,500.
According to Garrett Weekley, who worked with fellow seventh-grade teacher Alexandria Melisaratos to launch the effort last year, the campaign has taken on a whole new scope and significance. What began as a push to teach a single seventh-grade team the value of empathy has become infectious, uniting members from across the CMS community.
"Anybody who wanted to take part this year could do it," Weekley said, adding that word about the effort spread from students involved in the 2017 campaign. "I had a lot of students say that they just felt good about themselves; they felt good that they were able to help somebody."
Emma Bernard, 13, was involved in last year's fundraising effort, and she was eager to take part in the second round. She reported to the school early on a Saturday morning to join classmates and fill dozens of backpacks with donated materials.
"There's been a ripple effect," Bernard said. "It's created a sense of community."
The campaign has also put the larger world in perspective for the CMS students. Along with the school supplies, toys, books and other materials included in every backpack, the students wrote personalized message to recipients. Though the care packages were bound for strangers, the CMS students crafted messages of love and support; they thought carefully about kids who they'd never get a chance to meet in person, but who were still in need of support and encouragement.
The students tapped into a breed of generosity and selflessness that went beyond the boundaries of their everyday world. Bernard exemplified that attitude in the personalized message she crafted for packages last year.
"I wrote, 'We care about you and no matter what, there's always someone out in the world who loves you," she said.
The following Campus Middle School students volunteered their time and energy to assemble hundreds of care backpacks for needy foster children across the Denver metro area:
Kaitlyn Rockwood, joined by her mother and her three-siblings
Moises Gaytan Rodriguez Jr.
The following individuals also contributed to the effort:
Faith Weekley – student at Cherry Creek High School
Connor and Tyler Montagna-Brown – student at Cottonwood Elementary
Carter Weekley – student outside of CCSD