Backpacks handed out to kids in motels
August 15, 2002
Laundry lay strewn over the balcony, drying in the mid-morning sun which reflected hotly off the parking lot’s black pavement. Cats darted in and out of half-open doors.
The Downtowner Motel in Carson City is not one where vacationers spend a night or two, rushing to make check-out by noon. It is where people down on their luck live until that luck turns around or disappears all together.
Among those living there week-to-week are children. Kim Riggs, the Carson City School District’s homeless advocate, is spending the final weeks of summer helping those children prepare for school.
For the second year in a row, Costco donated 450 backpacks to the school district to help children classified as homeless get a jump start on back-to-school necessities.
Riggs typically delivers the backpacks to each school site, but this year decided to find the kids before they headed out for the first day of school. Along with Costco volunteers, she talked to managers at the Frontier, Round House, Warren Inn and Downtowner motels, asking about long-term residents with school-age children.
“If we’re going to do it, let’s go where the kids are,” she said. “If not, teachers and counselors are inundated and it would be a longer wait for these kids.”
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Riggs said it is important for the kids to have new items to help them blend in better at school when home life is often transitory and chaotic.
One father said he sleeps with a 12-gauge shotgun under his pillow after he has been robbed five times and has seen many neighboring motel rooms busted for drugs.
“I’ve only got three kids,” he explained. “They’re all I’ve got in my life. I’m not going to let anything happen to them.”
Even if it means tough love. He turned in his 16-year-old daughter two years ago when he caught her “huffing” — inhaling toxins to get high.
“I didn’t want her to die,” he said. “That stuff turns your brain to mush. I love her and I want to see her survive.”
Along with the hardships he’s faced, the father also tells a story of hope, such as the local psychologist who waived the $160 per hour fee to help his oldest son through emotional distress, and Riggs who has delivered clothes, food and school supplies for the last five years.
His 12-year-old son helped her pass out backpacks to other children living in the motel.
“It feels good because they’re living in this ghetto place,” the 12-year-old said. “Sometimes people don’t have enough money to buy new stuff for school.”
Those kids often stand out, said Bill Pierz, 13, of Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School, who accompanied his mother who works at Costco to deliver the backpacks filled with school supplies. He said poor children are often teased and taunted.
“I think that’s just cruel,” he said. “Think about how bad that would feel. They can’t do anything about it and a lot of their parents can’t do anything about it either.”
Riggs and Costco volunteers also delivered backpacks to Advocates to End Domestic Violence and the Volunteers of America, a temporary shelter for children until they can be placed in foster homes.
Riggs also collected foot sizes so each child could be given a new pair of shoes. However, she said many families are still living down by the river and will not come into Carson City until October when it is too cold to live outside.
She left additional backpacks at each of the motels for the managers to disperse as families with children move in. Students are classified as homeless who live in motels, campgrounds, outdoors, with grandparents or families doubling up in one home.
Jeff Creelman, owner of Capital Auto Insurance, is hosting a golf tournament Aug. 23 to raise money for the homeless program. A dinner and raffle at Mo & Sluggo’s will be held afterward at 6:30 p.m. to help raise money.
For more information on the homeless program or to get a backpack, call Kim Riggs at 887-6098.