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Taylorsville Journal

Backpacks for refugees spark excitement for group of girls and their leaders

Aug 03, 2020 12:06PM ● By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones

Twenty-five backpacks loaded with new school supplies make these young women happy. From left to right: Skye, Indra and Bailey. Last names not provided. (Photo courtesy Misti Smith)

By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones | [email protected]

At the end of June, Misti Smith, president of the Young Women in the West Point Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in West Valley City, said she needed something for her girls to do. 

“We needed to serve a little bit right now,” she said. “This period of time is stressful and kind of depressing. Many are discouraged.”

Smith’s association with the Utah Refugee Connection on Facebook allowed her to set things up. “When I saw the need, I thought, ‘perfect!’” she said.

In previous years, the Utah Refugee Connection has gathered roughly 3,000 backpacks prior to school starting filled with school supplies, and the group hoped they could add to that number this year, even if it was only in a small way. 

Not only backpacks were needed but binders, lined paper, spiral notebooks, pens, pencils, glue sticks, crayons, colored pencils, scissors and washable facemasks. 

The group of six had only three weeks from start to finish to get things done. All supplies had to be new, gathered and assembled in backpacks by the due date.

Enlisting the help of the Relief Society (a group of women who also serve others in need) from their congregation,  they sent out an email specifying to ward members what the young women were doing. Within two weeks, the girls and their leaders had gathered enough materials to fill 25 backpacks for student refugees.

“People were eager,” Smith said. “I was surprised at all the donations we received. We didn’t give people a ton of time. People dropped off [their donations] every day.”

After the two weeks were up and the supplies had sat in Smith’s car for a couple of days, the girls and their leaders met at their the church to assemble what had been donated.

“We had an assembly line, and we wore our masks,” she said. “At first, I wondered if the girls would keep them on, but they did. We’d also brought along hand sanitizer; there was lots of handwashing.”

But that’s not all.

“I had fun filling them,” Skye, a volunteer, said. “When my mom told me about the activity, I was excited about it because the kids were going to get something they probably wouldn’t normally get.”

But gathering together, even as a small group, presented a challenge. Keeping a distance during assembly line time was tough. “But you do the best you can,” Smith said.

COVID-19 or no COVID-19 it was “about time to serve,” Smith said. “Not [only] for the girls but the leaders, too. We had to do some service.”  

Since the refugee service, group members have been wondering what else they can do. 

They’ve discussed helping at Primary Children’s Hospital when the pandemic is over and making blankets. Smith’s own family is waiting eagerly for the day when they will be shopping and filling their personal backpacks, plus purchasing an extra backpack each to be filled with supplies for a refugee. 

“It just feels good,” Smith said. 

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