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Backpacks Full of Sharing

Dogwood students receive free backpacks filled with goodies.

Kindergartners in Leanne Gill’s class at Dogwood Elementary rushed to their desks, where they found bright red, green, yellow and blue backpacks filled with a book and a few toys.

“Look, I got sunglasses,” said one surprised and happy kindergartner.

As part of Volunteer Fairfax’s “A Celebration of Giving and Sharing,” all the students in kindergarten through second grade, about 230 students at Dogwood, received free backpacks Friday, Dec. 2.

The project, which is in its third year, works to educate children on the value of service and sharing with others. “The program is about giving and sharing,” said Jeanne Sanders, executive director of Volunteer Fairfax. “We think that’s the foundation for volunteering.”

About 30 volunteers with Volunteer Fairfax gathered early at Dogwood to help distribute the backpacks and teach the students about the value of sharing.

“The kids love it. They get so excited,” said Corinne Armstrong, a first-grade teacher at Dogwood Elementary School. “I love that [Volunteer Fairfax] did books this year.”

Leanne Gill, a kindergarten teacher at Dogwood Elementary, said the program was “great.”

One volunteer, Cameron Gamble of Washington, D.C., has participated in the program a couple of years now. “It’s awesome,” said Gamble. “It’s really fulfilling, especially to see how the children light up at the gifts.”

Linda Byrne, a Volunteer Fairfax board member, volunteered in Gill’s class. “It’s wonderful to see the smiles on the faces of the kids,” said Byrne, who added that she hopes to see the program expand.

VOLUNTEER FAIRFAX, which will operate the project at seven schools this year and give out more than 2,000 backpacks, targets schools with the greatest need.

A school qualifies to participate in the program when 50 percent or more of the student body is eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals. This standard is met by 18 schools in the Volunteer Fairfax’s serving area. At Dogwood, 57 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced priced meals.

“Our goal is to eventually meet the needs of all 18 eligible schools,” said Sanders. “Each year, we have expanded to a new school, but the growth of the program is dependent on our corporate sponsors.”

Volunteer Fairfax continues to look for more corporate sponsors to help expand the program.

Volunteer Fairfax is a private nonprofit corporation established in 1975 to mobilize people and resources to meet regional community needs. Last year, the volunteer center was responsible for generating 44,000 volunteer hours.