Usually around this time of year, Nichelle Hilton would be at the center of a hive of activity as volunteers, gathered in a YWCA conference room on East Cherry Street in Seattle, stuff brightly colored backpacks full of school supplies collected by donors to distribute to children in need.

More people would arrive with backpacks filled at off-site stuffing parties and eagerly add to the growing pile.

Not this year though, said Hilton, a YWCA resource coordinator in King County. People are minimizing shopping and congregating in response to the threat of COVID-19.

“We can’t ask our donors to do that — to go out in the public and shop,” she said.

At the same time, the pandemic has only exacerbated the need. Hilton and Snohomish County resource coordinator Vicki Dorway are encouraging cash donations so they can use them to purchase backpacks and supplies in bulk.

Nonprofit partners in The Seattle Times editorial board’s annual school-supply drive are adjusting time-tested routines to minimize the risk of spreading coronavirus. These necessary adjustments make Times readers’ contributions more important than in any other year.

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Instead of inviting families to come and choose from an array of backpacks — adorned with everything from butterflies to Paw Patrol, or subtler styles favored by older students — YWCA case managers will likely collect and distribute the packs.

But despite these necessary precautions, one important element remains unchanged: The warm glow of giving that comes from coming together — if only in spirit — to support the region’s youth.

HOW TO HELP: The easiest way to donate is online. Checks may also be sent to: The Seattle Times School-Supply Drive, P.O. Box C-11025, Seattle, WA 98111. Email questions about donations to ffn@seattletimes.com