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Medford students team up for backpack project

When Medford school board member Cynthia Wright was confronted with the fact that local students were short on school supplies, she turned to the youth of her church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Medford.

Those youngsters then teamed up with their counterparts at Joy Church, also in Medford, and on Friday the resulting interfaith partnership came to fruition with a 250-backpack giveaway at four elementary schools, McLoughlin Middle School and Central Medford High School.

“It’s not just the adults who believe that it’s all about learning — our students do, too,” said Medford School District Superintendent Bret Champion, whose conversation with Wright kicked off the effort. “And one tenet in there is learning that we own our present and future and that’s exactly what these students have embodied.”

Kayden Casper, a South Medford High School student, was asked to pitch in on the project about a month ago and soon she was joined by two more South Medford Panthers (Max Woolf and Aubrey Vial) and three North Medford High students (Maddy and Porter Charles and Calvin Blackson). The group met with Wright over Zoom to brainstorm.

The goal was to round up as many supplies as possible: notebooks, crayons, pens, pencils, folders and so on. Too many MSD students were being forced to make due, they were told — just more collateral damage from COVID-19 and, later, the Almeda fire.

They set up a drop-off week at South Medford High, then later organized a bigger drop-off location at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sites. The items collected would be stuffed into backpacks, and the backpacks distributed to those in need.

So the call went out, and Casper said what she saw at both locations was inspiring.

“The community really came together and there were some really generous donations,” she said. “We had a list of about nine items that people could bring. It was really cold that morning and one donor even brought us hot chocolate, which was really awesome.”

Vial said after the Almeda fire caused so much hardship she wanted to find some way to lend a hand, but was short on ideas. Then, she was approached with the backpack project and couldn’t wait to jump in.

“So when this opportunity came up of course I was going to take it and I’m really grateful that I was able to be part of planning it,” she said. “I didn’t get to see the kids’ faces but I can definitely imagine how they felt.”

The donation drive completed, the students plus another 30 volunteers — local students of all ages — met at one site to compile the loot. So many backpacks were donated, Casper said, that they had to run out to the store to buy more supplies in order to fill them up. When they started, the goal was to distribute between 200 and 300 backpacks. They ended up landing right in the middle of those numbers.

“Honestly, I was just so shocked about how much ... they brought so many things and it was really heart-warming to me,” Casper said. “As I was putting the backpacks together I was just like, individually picturing a little girl or a little boy getting this backpack that they didn’t think they would get this year but then being able to give that to them, it just made my year.”

Woolf agreed.

“There’s so many people in need here and even if we can help 200 kids, I know in the grand scheme of things ... it’s not a ton,” he said, “but I know to like one person losing something could mean a lot. So having the opportunity to help other people is really nice. It makes us feel good and we’re always glad to help.”

Champion said the way the students came together in a time of need speaks to the character of those involved, which didn’t surprise him.

“They’ve taken a rough year ... and said but we’re going to own our response to it,” he said. “So we are proud of these students, and they are just a microcosm of the remarkable kids we’ve got in the Medford School District, the remarkable volunteer spirit that we’ve got across this valley, the terrific leadership we have from our board and from our principalship, and we continue to be honored and awed to be part of this school district.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Cynthia Wright, left, and McLoughlin Middle School student Logan Casper pose for a picture after helping to load up backpacks stuffed with school supplies. The backpacks were distributed to local elementary school students as part of a project organized by students from North Medford and South Medford high schools. photo courtesy of the Medford School District