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Packing Up

Scouts, Student Council help prepare Katrina victims for school.

The pile of backpacks filled Lori Harmon's garage and weighed 3,451 pounds, she said — nearly as much as a full-grown walrus.

When those backpacks were combined with donations collected by student government organizations at Lake Braddock Secondary School, the pile took up half a tractor-trailer.

"We thought we'd get around 100, or even less," said Jessica Harmon, 11, who began collecting new backpacks for Hurricane Katrina victims as part of a Girl Scout project, along with classmate Christine Swengros.

On Thursday, Sept. 29, the two Saratoga Elementary sixth-graders helped load the backpacks into the Interstate truck that would drive them to Louisiana. Student Council members from Lake Braddock, who became involved with the "We've Got Your Back" campaign through the PTA, joined them.

"Last year, we had Toys for Tots, so we decided to do stuff for Katrina this year," said eighth-grader Peter Bixby. "It makes me feel good."

Initially, said Jessica, she felt disappointed by the turnout, and didn't think they would make their goal of 100. But once she and Christine advertised the project around the neighborhood, at school and on the Internet (www.dosomething.org) donations poured in quickly. Lori Harmon said she had to begin turning backpacks down when the number reached 493.

"All these kids are doing community service," said Jane Gordon, a Lake Braddock faculty member. "It makes you think, 'I need to get involved in this service.'"

"I think all the people will be really happy," said Christine. "If I got one, I'd be like, 'Oh, that's cool,' because I already have a backpack, but these kids really need them."

Christine said she and Jessica invented imaginary recipients of the backpacks and bought supplies based on what these recipients would like. They bought deodorant and razors for a teenage boy, and a multi-pack of toothbrushes for a first-grader with a large family.

The backpacks included school supplies as well as clothes, granola bars, books and Beanie Babies, said Christine's mother Diane Swengros.

"It was a lot of work, but after we loaded it into the van and realized how many we got … it was just a really good feeling," said Jessica.

— Lea Mae Rice