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Annual backpack drive to help homeless students
Operation backpack
In anticipation of the first day of school, Operation Backpack will be collecting supplies for students in need at locations around Stanislaus County. - photo by File Photo

While the start of a new school year is an exciting time for many, it brings an array of emotional and academic challenges for students without a home. To help alleviate stress for students who start out the year at a disadvantage, the Stanislaus County Office of Education is looking to provide homeless and at-risk youth with new backpacks and school supplies through the Operation Backpack Drive.

Operation Backpack is a vital resource for the 6,500 homeless students throughout Stanislaus County — a population which has grown year after year due to foreclosures, evictions, layoffs, furloughs and unemployment, according to SCOE.

“Operation Backpack enables us to distribute backpacks to kids who wouldn’t have them otherwise and for us that’s huge,” said Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon. 

The Operation Backpack Drive is slated for July 13 through 31, and school supplies can be dropped off at any of the following locations:

·         Stanislaus County Office of Education – 1100 H Street, Modesto

·         Alfred Matthews Cadillac GMC Buick – 3807 McHenry Ave. Modesto

·         Mocse Credit Union – 1400 J Street, Modesto

·         Mocse Credit Union – 3600 Coffee Road, Modesto

·         Mocse Credit Union – 1401 Geer Road, Turlock

·         Prime Shine Car Wash - 12 locations in Stanislaus County: Modesto (5), Ceres (2), Turlock (2), Oakdale (1), Riverbank (1), and Patterson (1)

·         Sutter Gould Medical Foundation – 600 Coffee Road, Modesto, Information Desk

Homeless children face a wide variety of challenges and long-lasting issues that are profoundly detrimental to their development and ability to learn, ultimately affecting their success in life.

According to The National Center on Family Homelessness, homeless children are eight times more likely to be asked to repeat a grade, three times as likely to be placed in special education classes and twice as likely to score lower on standardized tests. Operation Backpack seeks to provide some sense of normalcy and remove one obstacle from homeless students’ lives. With a new backpack and new school supplies, students get to feel more like “regular kids” and can start the school year on more even footing.

Through Operation Backpack, community members are invited to download a grade-specific school supply list from the drive’s website (, purchase a new backpack and fill it with school supplies and bring the filled backpack to one of the drop-off locations before July 31. Monetary donations can be made on the website as well in lieu of a backpack.

According to Flora Eppler, the Student Services administrative secretary who organizes Turlock Unified School District’s homeless student outreach, there are currently 61 homeless students within TUSD. When a student’s parent registers their child for school, if the student doesn’t have a home address the parent is given an emergency supplies list to fill out, Eppler said.

The district routinely purchases backpacks and supplies for those students thanks to state funding, she said, and local churches also help put together emergency supplies like clothing and resources to help families find permanent housing.

Having the right supplies once they arrive at school is important, but TUSD also ensures that homeless students make it safely to campus, Eppler added. For younger students too small to walk to the bus stop, TUSD contracts Dial-A-Ride to pick them up and take them to school. For older students, TUSD pays for the children to have a bus pass so that they can catch a ride to class.

“If they don’t have a place to live, it’s good to know that they at least will have school supplies and someone is looking out for them,” Eppler said.