BENNINGTON — And just like that, they were gone.
Within a half-hour of opening the doors at the Bennington Auto Mall, organizers of the Back to School Backpack Challenge had given away all 150 backpacks filled with school supplies on hand, and then some. No child left empty-handed; some got vouchers to be redeemed when an additional order of backpacks comes in, and a handful got backpacks that organizers had picked up at Walmart earlier in the day, just in case.
The final tally: 250 children will be going back to school with a new backpack.
The Back to School Backpack Challenge was organized by the Bennington Auto Mall, the Bennington Banner and its sister paper, the Manchester Journal. It was intended as a way for students and their families to help get children ready for the new school year. Long before the advertised 3 p.m. starting time, a line of children and parents stretched around the outside of the dealership building on Performance Drive.
“This event is absolutely more about giving back than anything,” said Justin Minarcik, the general manager of the dealership, as he handed out backpacks from the bed of a new Nissan pickup. “I wasn’t expecting this big of a turnout, but it’s all right” he added, smiling. “It’s all about the kids.”
Earlier in the afternoon, the backpacks with supplies that included crayons, scissors, rulers, tissues and notebooks by a crew that included representatives of United Counseling Service, the Bennington Auto Mall and New England Newspapers Inc., the Banner’s parent company, as well as Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette, Bennington County Sheriff Chad Schmidt and business leaders.
A long line of children waited for their turn to have their hair cut by Jessica Altiery and Rachel Severs of The Clip Shop, who had volunteered. “We just loved the idea of this,” Altiery said, noting that some of the children rarely have the opportunity to have their hair cut by a professional.
“This is a great event for the kids,” said Tim Cahill, the store manager of Hannaford’s, which grilled up hamburgers and hot dogs. “It’s good for the community, and we love to go out and show our support.” He said organizers suggested that he bring 100 hamburgers and 100 hotdogs; he brought 150 of each — and still expected to run out.
“This is definitely appreciated,” said Jamielee Bivens, who was waiting in the line for haircuts with Zephia, 7, and Marjani, 4.
“There are so many people in town who don’t have the money to afford school supplies — especially at the end of the month,” she said.
Contact David LaChance at email@example.com, and at 802-447-7567, ext. 115.