The West Hartford elementary school, known for its community service projects, has donated 395 backpacks stuffed with school supplies this year.
By Ronni Newton
The entire Morley Elementary School community made its annual 1.2-mile spring trek to Town Hall for the seventh time Wednesday morning, carrying backpacks loaded with school supplies that students, families, and others had donated to the town’s human services department.
Morley Principal Ryan Cleary said that the number of backpacks (395) far surpassed the number of students (330), and that the school’s parents and kids are “unbelievable” in the way they show support for the community.
The backpacks and school supplies were donated not only by current students and their families but also by Morley alumni, including some middle and high school students who returned to join Wednesday morning’s Backpack Brigade. Even neighbors who don’t have children hear about the collection and drop off donations, Cleary said.
“It’s a significant thing, and I want our kids to be really proud. They’re so excited, so psyched,” Cleary said as the kids filed into Town Hall Auditorium to drop off the donations and participate in a brief ceremony.
Second grade teacher Dawn O’Connor, who coordinates the backpack donation as well as the 20-year Morley Red Wagon Food Drive tradition, said she was getting nervous just about a week ago when there were only 120 backpacks – far short of the 350 goal. “I shouldn’t have been nervous, shouldn’t have worried … because we are the most generous school and we come through in the end,” O’Connor said.
Some of the donated backpacks and other supplies were purchased with a $500 donation from Plan B Burger Bar, a $500 donation from the Morley PTO, and $300 raised from the dunk tank at the Morley Fair. O’Connor said that purchasing the supplies is her favorite type of shopping to do.
Amanda Moffo, who coordinator of the West Hartford Food Pantry, told the Morley students that they should be “very proud” of themselves. Human Services provided backpacks for more than 650 children in West Hartford last year, and Morley made a huge impact.
“We could not do it without you,” Moffo said. “We talk about people helping people but nothing compares to children helping children,” she said.
West Hartford Deputy Mayor Shari Cantor, whose four sons are all Morley alumni, also thanked the students for their donations.
“You are part of a special, special Morley community. What you are part of is remarkable,” Cantor said. Over the past seven years there have been a total of about 2,500 backpacks donated by Morley, Cantor said. “You’ve made such a difference to so many lives in our community,” she told the students.
“This is a perfect example of citizenship,” Cleary told his students. The half day that the students spend walking to and from Town Hall, and the half day they may commit to shopping for supplies adds up to just one day. “That one day that has made a whole entire school year’s difference to children in our community,” Cleary said.
Neither the backpack brigade nor the food drive ever becomes routine, O’Connor said. “There are always more backpacks to buy, more money to collect, new parents to educate who don’t even know about it. It’s exciting every year getting the kids to understand what it’s all about,” she said.
Community Outreach Coordinator Suzanne Oslander said that Morley’s donation is a “big, big help,” especially as the number of children who need the donated supplies has continued to increase. “It really speaks volumes about this community,” she said.
If anyone is interested in donating, human services still needs larger backpacks for high school students, Oslander said. Financial donations to the Town That Cares Fund are also welcome, and information about how to donate can be found on the Town of West Hartford website.
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