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East County Tuesday, Jul. 20, 2021 2 months ago

Lakewood Ranch volunteers help Stillpoint Mission distribute backpacks in Bradenton

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Lakewood Ranch volunteers stuff 700 backpacks to be distributed to children in need.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Ten Lakewood Ranch residents went around and around a dining room table filling backpacks with notebooks, rulers, pens and other school supplies.

“It’s like we were waiting for the music to stop so we could grab a chair,” Margaret Prinstein said with a laugh. 

After hours of stuffing backpacks with school supplies, the group had about 650 backpacks piled in a bedroom in Judy Balmer’s home waiting to be distributed at the Stillpoint Mission July 28.  

Prinstein also stuffed another 50 or so backpacks at her home for Stillpoint Mission to donate to children in the community. 

Lakewood Ranch's Dianne Emmermann insists on helping with stuffing backpacks even after having knee surgery. Courtesy photo.

By the end of the project, the volunteer group had 700 backpacks, the most since Balmer started leading the nonprofit’s backpack program in 2017.

The program was able to raise more than $10,000 for new backpacks and school supplies through a $1,500 Walmart grant, individual donations and Flanzer Trust matching donations of up to $500. The grant and matching donations were a first for the group.

“It reminds me of how generous the people are in this community,” Balmer said. “They never hesitate to help for causes that are aligned with charity, especially with children. People are just amazingly generous. It restores your faith in humanity when these kinds of things happen.”

Balmer recalled when she was shopping and had her cart filled to the brim with school supplies. As she was waiting in line at the register, she struck up a conversation with a woman who questioned why Balmer had so much in her cart. Balmer explained Stillpoint Mission’s mission and the backpack program. 

Diane Brune helps stuff backpacks with school supplies for Stillpoint Mission. Courtesy photo.

When the stranger was leaving, she turned around and gave Balmer $100 for the backpack program. Even after explaining Balmer had enough money for the program, the woman insisted she take the donation.

“I never got the woman’s name,” Balmer said. “I had tears in my eyes. That’s why I do this because it makes me feel good and it makes other people around me feel good, especially after the pandemic. Isn’t that a nice way to feel when you go into a store and leave feeling like there’s still wonderful, generous people all around you and are willing to help disadvantaged children?”

In 2020, the group decided not to distribute backpacks and only give out school supplies because volunteers weren’t sure whether students would be returning to school in person.

Prinstein looks forward to being able to go to Stillpoint Mission to distribute the backpacks.

“When you see the smiles on the kids’ faces, it makes it all worthwhile,” Prinstein said. “The kids will be excited, especially because they didn’t get a backpack last year.”

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