- August 5, 2015
Country Club’s Judy Balmer was standing in line at the Walmart register with a cart full of school supplies.
She noticed the man behind her only had one item. Knowing she would need some time to check out, she let the man go in front of her.
They started talking about why she was purchasing so much school supplies.
Since 2017, Balmer has spent months shopping for school supplies using donations from the community to provide backpacks and supplies for Stillpoint Mission to distribute to low-income families.
After listening to her story, Balmer said the man donated $5.
Balmer has been shopping every deal she can, clearing out school supply sections at various stores with the hope of being able to donate 800 backpacks filled with supplies to Stillpoint Mission in July.
“It gives me a sense of fulfillment in that I am giving back,” Balmer said. “I had a very successful career, and a career I probably didn’t deserve. I feel like somebody up there was watching after me, and I need to help those who need a little bit of extra help.”
Balmer said the Backpack Program is crucial this year as inflation has caused an increase in the cost of school supplies. For example, Balmer bought backpacks for $15 last year, and they’re $22 this year.
The Backpack Program received a $1,500 community grant from the Walmart Foundation this year, which Balmer said helps the program reach its 800-backpack goal. The grant is awarded to local organizations that support and work to improve the communities they serve.
Balmer hopes more people will donate through the Flanzer Trust, which is matching donations of up to $500.
Balmer already has been busy buying school supplies and she is concerned about potential supply chain issues as well as inflation.
Sarasota’s Tina Backhus, a retired teacher of 31 years, and Lakewood Ranch’s Joan Novak, a retired teacher of 38 years, are helping Balmer to pack the backpacks and prepare them for distribution.
Backhus and Novak have been volunteering at Stillpoint Mission, managing the children’s library and assisting with food and clothing distribution days. They said they’re excited to be helping with the Backpack Program for the first time this year.
As retired teachers, Backhus and Novak said they understand the importance of each student having their own school supplies from the first day of school.
Backhus said having their own supplies makes them feel good about themselves and boosts their self esteem.
On distribution day, children are able to see what backpacks are available and choose which one they want to take home. Balmer, Backhus and Novak love seeing the smiles on the children’s faces as they pick out their backpack.
They said the parents are always appreciative of the Backpack Program.
Balmer said any surplus school supplies that’s not distributed will be saved and used for next year’s distribution.