By Lisa Capobianco
The Giving Back Girls kicked off another backpack drive as part of the Southington Smart Start Program, providing at least 400 backpacks to students in need throughout the community.
Created in 2010 by high school freshman Erin Gibney, the Giving Back Girls spent hours filling each backpack with school supplies, gift cards to Walmart and gift certificates for a hair cut. With the help of the Southington Fire Department, The Giving Back Girls loaded each backpack onto the fire truck before bringing them to Derynoski Elementary School. Between Jansport backpacks and Barbie backpacks, the girls offered a variety of them to students of all grades. They also displayed a table full of children’s books and other school supplies, like rulers and lunchboxes. As parents entered with their children, they had a number of options to choose from, since each backpack had its own style.
“We like to give them a fun experience,” Erin said.
About 50 families in need walk turn to Southington Community Services on a daily basis to receive bags of food and other donations, according to Assistant Mark Fasarrelli. Erin said helping these families brings her a sense of joy and accomplishment.
“Helping gives me a sense of fulfillment,” she said. “It’s nice to help people in your own town.”
Erin’s friend, Marissa Matarazzo, has been an active member of The Giving Back Girls since the community involvement group began. The drive has also brought her a sense of fulfillment.
“I want to make kids smile, to get them excited about going back to school,” Marissa said.
Tricia Gibney, Erin’s mother, helped coordinate and distribute the backpacks. Tricia said she is proud of the hard work that all 22 girls accomplished in order to make a difference in the community.
“It was just an amazing process to see all these girls organize the backpacks,” she said.
Both Tricia and Erin hope to inspire younger children to get involved with The Giving Back Girls. They plan to recruit more girls to carry on the group’s mission, especially after its current members move on to high school and college.
“When you start at a young age, you are helping people your whole life,” Erin said.