The Kiwanis Club held its 16th Gear up for School event earlier this month as it invited kids from low-income families to Key Peninsula Middle School to pick up several items for the coming academic year.
Steve Bay, the president-elect for the Peninsula-Gig Harbor Kiwanis, said it was the greatest event he’s witnessed since he’s been involved with the club. It provided clothing and teacher-identified school supplies to students on the Key Peninsula.
“Both corporate and community service groups not only provided donations for the families and children the event serves, their employees and volunteers were on hand during the giveaway and actively participated alongside Kiwanis Club members,” Bay said.
Kiwanians take advantage of sales throughout the year to acquire items students need to start the school year. They are stored in the CenturyLink warehouse in Gig Harbor.
On Aug. 7, Kiwanis members loaded their vehicles from the warehouse and transported the items to KPMS.
At the same time, another group loaded up used bikes made to look like new by inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. It took the volunteers, including Corrections Officer Mike Zuber, three hours to transform the KPMS commons and gym into a back-to-school store.
“This year, the first family in line arrived at KPMS at 7 p.m. Wednesday and camped out overnight,” Kiwanis Club member Daphne Frickelton said. “The next family showed up at midnight.”
Thursday morning dawned bright and early for the Kiwanis and Key Club members from Gig Harbor High School. Danielle Van Dusen, Victoria Van Dusen, Eveyln Lundeen and Ayane Kawaai, as well as Elisa Han from Peninsula High, all arrived at 5:30 a.m. to cook a pancake breakfast for the families in line.
“I come here early every year and am thankful for the breakfast they serve,” said Genna Eve Gettle, a fifth-grader at Discovery Elementary School.
“This morning is special to me because it’s helping the community get things some people may not be able to get,” KPMS seventh-grader Ashlee Jones said. “What Kiwanians do is very nice. I am really grateful for the donations and the yummy pancakes.”
“I get a new outfit, new bike and school supplies,” said Kyle Wayne Fritcher of Evergreen Elementary. “It helps us out so much. Thanks to everybody who helps.”
Kyle’s brother, Dylan Jeffrey Fritcher, who attends KPMS, also received supplies, new outfits and a bike.
“Being at Gear Up is like being at Christmas morning multiplied over a hundred-plus times,” Kiwanis Club member Denny Wardwell said. “ It gets a little emotional when you see a second-grade boy just light up over the fact that he has a winter jacket. The school supplies and the clothing are necessities but have to take a back seat to the bicycles. My only regret is that we were short of bicycles and that I didn’t participate in this earlier.”
Daphne Frickelton said there were 86 bikes that were a product of the club’s partnership with the prison. Becki Wheeler and Sarah Hughes from Lindquist Dental Clinic supplied each child with a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss, Frickelton said.
Employees from Kohl’s, CenturyLink, Payless Shoesource and Walgreens attended to help students and their families.
Kaydince and Angelina Winslowe, a third-grader and fifth-grader, respectively, at Minter Creek Elementary, said they appreciated the Kiwanis Club and the event.
“(We) came here because I really want a bicycle, and it means a lot because the community cares about us,” said Diana Anjilo of Harbor Ridge Middle School.
Jeatonn Abbott, who will be an eighth-grader at KPMS, said she was excited to make friends before school starts.
“It’s great to socialize and have fun,” added Alexander Gettle, a seventh-grader at Goodman Middle School.
Kaytlin Edwards, a sixth-grader at KPMS, and her sister, Kalina, a second-grader at Vaughn Elementary, also picked up supplies at the event.
“It’s very nice they help us get school supplies and new shoes,” said Carson Leib, a fourth-grader at Vaughn.
Gig Harbor High Key Club volunteer Ayane Kawaai, who transferred from Huntington Beach, Calif., said she was got interested in helping other kids while she was a freshman at her previous school.
“We had an event called club rush where all the clubs of the school displayed posters and pictures of what their club was doing. I stopped at a booth called Kiwanis, a community service club. The pictures of kids helping out young children and cleaning up the beach made me want to do the same.”
Malissa Redford said the annual event is important to her family.
“We are a low-income family due to my disability, and it helps so much,” she said.
Her son, Marcus, a Vaughn elementary student, and her daughter, Makaya of KPMS, agreed.
“This morning is very important to me,” Marcus said. “It helps me get my supplies, clothes and shoes for school.”
The Redfords’ sibling, Mariah, attends Vaughn Elementary.
“This morning means a lot of things, but most important, I think of thankfulness for people who donated to this,” Mariah said. “It really helped the poor, but most importantly, it helps the community.”
Frickelton said Gear up for School served 177 students this year.
“Each child received jeans, shirt, shoes, socks, coat, backpack and grade-appropriate school supplies,” she said. “Since the program’s inception, we have helped nearly 4,300 low-income, mainly Key Peninsula students start school ready to learn.”
Kiwanis Club member Dick Shaffer said he joined because it’s grassroots service at its best.
“The past two years, I have helped give out bikes which have been donated and then reconditioned at the women’s prison in Purdy,” Shaffer said. “The huge smiles on the families show how much they value the gift.”
The club is looking for additional used bikes, particularly for smaller ones, Shaffer said.
“They are hard for us to get because, by the time families are finished with them, they are so well-used we can’t repair them,” he said.
Those who have gently used bikes can email email@example.com, call Shaffer at 253-515-1921 or John Bare at 253-686-9664.Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for The Peninsula Gateway. He can be reached at 253-884-3319 or by email at hmnmnp1000@ centurytel.net.