The hard work of helping Puget Sound’s disadvantaged students achieve classroom equity was evident in the muggy basement of the Columbia City Church of Hope last week.

Notebooks, pencils, folders and other supply-list essentials provided by donors sat in mounds atop a rectangle of tables. On Monday, a procession of volunteer workers orbited the tables, stuffing 602 brand-new backpacks with classroom necessities for grades 6-12. A few yards away were more than 800 additional backpacks already volunteer-packed for preschool and elementary students.

This effort, Project Cool by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, will provide supplies from crayons to USB drives to students in need this coming school year through the help of 200 volunteers. The backpacks flow to dozens of homeless shelters throughout King County, where they’re given to students whose families have few resources to buy even the most basic necessities. A toothbrush, toothpaste and floss are included in each backpack.

Backpacks filled with school supplies for homeless King County students await distribution to shelters. (Derrick Nunnally / The Seattle Times)
Backpacks filled with school supplies for homeless King County students await distribution to shelters. (Derrick Nunnally / The Seattle Times)

King County has more than 9,500 students who experienced homelessness at some point during the last school year. The supply of well-stocked backpacks does not fulfill the depth of need to ensure every student has an equitable start on learning.

For 20 years, donations to The Seattle Times Editorial Board’s annual school-supply drive have funded programs, including Project Cool, to ensure students from families facing economic challenges have the tools for strong classroom starts.

Donations to this year’s school-supply drive have raised more than $20,800 toward an ambitious goal of $110,000. The Times passes along every dollar of the proceeds to the Coalition on Homelessness, YWCA Seattle-King-Snohomish and Hopelink, which will ensure backpacks of school supplies reach students in King and Snohomish Counties in time for the fall’s first classroom bells.

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At Seattle’s Broadview Emergency Shelter, about 35 students from families in crisis will carry backpacks from Project Cool into schoolrooms during the coming year. Danthanh Trinh, a children’s advocate at the shelter, worked at the Columbia City church to help fill the backpacks she’ll soon hand to children during shelter intake.

“They’re really excited,” Trinh said of the responses to the backpacks. “A lot of times, the kids come and they don’t have anything with them.”

Project Cool has helped King County children for more than three decades, and the need for its work is still strongly felt. Please donate to help The Times fund this necessary program and others like it so students in need can march proudly into class, prepared to learn.

HELP BUY SCHOOL SUPPLIES: Give online; email questions to ffn@seattletimes.com; or send checks to: The Seattle Times School-Supply Drive, P.O. Box C-11025, Seattle, WA 98111