Campus org donates 27,000 backpacks over 21 years

It started small, with six on-campus offices gathering 62 backpacks and donating them to local elementary schools.

Today, 13 campus employees coordinate this program and more than 200 volunteers donate their time to the annual community effort, called School is Cool.

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“The idea was created as a community outreach program and an opportunity for Colorado State University to demonstrate its commitment to helping young students succeed academically,” said one of the founders, Kathy Phifer.

Phifer believes the growth has been remarkable.

“It’s very important to remember that, in the early years, all of the money was donated by CSU employees,” she said.

The program has recently received a grant from the Bohemian Foundation and the CSU Bookstore.

Every $25 donation fills a backpack with the required materials for each grade level.

“It adds up, college students know this,” said John Parry, the director of the CSU Bookstore.

These prices are the reason that external support and every donation makes a difference in helping to fulfill student needs.

Parry has helped with this program for 14 years.

“It is a very nicely done student program,” he said.

With his help and the help of hundreds of volunteers, nearly 27,000 backpacks have been delivered over the last 21 years. Today, backpacks are donated to students grades K-12.

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“It has been through the dedication and commitments –– both monetary and time –– that this program continues to grow and succeed,” Parry said.

Many CSU students remember shopping with their parents for school supplies when they were younger and showing up on their first days of grade school with all our new goodies. School is Cool believes every child should have this opportunity to start school on the right foot.

“There is no better way for us, as a great university, to put our beliefs into action than to support kids in our hometown getting what they need to succeed in school,” said Tom Milligan, vice president of External Relations. “I am so proud of CSU for starting this great program, and even more proud that we’ve kept it going for 20 years. School is Cool will be here 20 years from now too – it is that good.”

Even with all the support School is Cool receives, the organization still has needs that are not being met.

“The poverty numbers in Fort Collins are staggering,” Phifer said.

However, everyone’s efforts have still impacted each student’s future in a positive way, she added.

“School is Cool is, in many ways, exactly the kind of program that makes CSU what it is.” Milligan said. “We are a community that cares about each other, and when we see a chance to help someone, we just do it.”

Collegian Writer Megan Timlin can be reached at news@collegian.com.