GRAND RAPIDS — With five kids between the ages of 5 and 14 going to school this fall at All Saints Academy, Tomika Cummings, knows the kind of chunk school supplies can take out of a family budget.
So, the five free backpacks filled with notebooks and supplies plus the free meal she and her kids got Saturday at Garfield Park in Grand Rapids had the Cedar Springs mother counting her blessings.
“I struggle, but we do pretty good,” she said. “My kids are good students and they respect people.”
Summer is winding down and much to the chagrin of school-aged kids around Grand Rapids, that means fall classes are just around the corner. Knowing that, Cynthia Draine decided to help ease the burden a little by giving away a back-to-school staple: backpacks.
“I’ve been so blessed in my career,” said Draine, a former General Motors employee from Wyoming who owns several rental properties in Grand Rapids.
Draine and her husband, Napoleon, thought about doing a turkey dinner in November, but instead decided the tough times of recent years meant area school kids were in need of more tangible items.
“I really just wanted people to get together, have a good time and not worry about buying backpacks,” she said Saturday, surrounded by a group of friends and family who helped her stage the give-away. “The economy is still tight.”
With the help of Shawn Jones and his family’s community support foundation and a network of local minority-owned businesses that sponsored the event by donating food and drinks for a cook-out, Draine gave away 100 backpacks to a lineup of kids.
“It’s all about giving back to the families that don’t have,” said Jones. “We’ve been there before.”
Lee Middle School student Devon Parr, 14, of Wyoming was there to get a replacement backpack. “I had one but I lost it,” he said.
Saturday’s rain delayed the event slightly, but didn’t dampen spirits. The weather had cleared by the time most families began to arrive around 3 p.m. Larry Maddox from WYGR 1530-AM radio played music.
“It’s a major help right now,” said Fonida Belton of Grand Rapids, who brought her sister’s kids in addition to her own two daughters, Koi, 5, and Kamia, 9, going to school this fall at William C. Abney Academy.
“My hours got cut and this helps a lot,” she said.