The No. 2 pencil. It’s the iconic school supply – a brand-new, unsharpened pencil even smells like the first day of classes.
This year, more than 200 volunteers from Colorado State University – faculty, staff and administrators – made sure students throughout the Poudre School District had pencils, and notebooks, and markers, and everything else they need to start the school year off right by stuffing and delivering backpacks through School is Cool. In its 30th year, the signature CSU outreach program provided 2,687 backpacks and supply bags to students in need in grades K-12 throughout the district.
While the volunteer effort spans three days in August, coordination, fundraising and securing the supplies is a year-round effort.
John Parry, director of the CSU Bookstore, begins identifying the most cost-effective sources for items months in advance, but has to coordinate with the district to find out what is on the final supply list for each grade. Then the School is Cool committee works with individual schools to determine the final number of backpacks needed by each school over the summer.
Take those No. 2 pencils, for example. Every single School is Cool backpack contains a supply of pencils. In years past, they would have been in a nice, neat box, but supply chain disruptions related to the pandemic caused Parry to find a new vendor, who could only deliver the pencils in bulk.
“That’s what they could provide for the quantity we needed at a reasonable price, delivered on time,” said Parry, noting there were delivery hiccups all along the way with other items as well.
In the end, the staff of the Bookstore went into all-hands-on-deck mode to bundle over 32,000 pencils into dozens by hand.
“Their effort was above and beyond,” said Connie Schimmels, co-chair of the School is Cool organizing committee.
Sorting, stuffing, delivering
The pencils became part of the 19 pallets of supplies delivered to Johnson Hall on Tuesday, Aug. 3, for sorting so volunteers could begin filling the backpacks on Wednesday.
By Thursday morning, they were ready to be loaded onto CSU buses for delivery to schools from Wellington to Timnath, where school administrators distributed them to students in need.
School is Cool is made possible through major support from The CSU Bookstore and the Bohemian Foundation. But, as Schimmels and co-chair Colleen Rodriguez pointed out, it takes the entire CSU village to make the program a success: Parking and Transportation Services provided the buses and space to park them for loading; the Motor Pool provided smaller vans to deliver supplies to schools in outlying areas of the district; Central Receiving stored and delivered the pallets of supplies; Facilities Management kept on top of recycling and trash removal, as well as transforming Johnson Hall 222 into a production line and back into a lecture hall; the Department of Health and Exercise Science sent over laundry bins from the Youth Sport Camps to help move the backpacks to the buses; and the bakeshop in Dining Services kept the volunteers fueled with daily delivery of cookies.
The Annual Giving Team in University Advancement not only helped raise funds but also kept track of individual donations from nearly 800 members of the Ram Family faculty staff, alumni, parents and retirees.
“We are so grateful for everyone who makes School is Cool a success every year,” Rodriguez added. “We are especially happy to work with Nick Peterson and Alex Ballou at the Poudre School District. They really make this partnership work for the kids in our community.”
Is this massive community effort, from securing funds to bundling No. 2 pencils by hand, worth it?
“If someone would take the list of what we provide in the backpacks and buy them in a store, they’d see what it really costs,” Parry said. “For many families, buying those supplies means going without something else, so to me, School is Cools is definitely worth it.”
Support School is Cool
With prices of supplies on the rise, along with the need in the Fort Collins community, School is Cool can use your support all year-round. It’s easy to give online, over the phone, by check, or payroll deduction for CSU employees. A $25 donation still buys and fills a backpack with school supplies for a student in need in the Poudre School District.