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Homeless students to receive backpacks

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Seven hundred-fifty students in the city's public school system will get a backpack stuffed with school supplies thanks to a first time effort spearheaded by School Committee member Antonette Pepe.

Last week, Pepe, her husband and granddaughter were aided by employees of the Health Department, Facilities Management and the School Department in preparing the backpacks and distributing them to schools around the city.

The campaign was aimed at getting school supplies to 750 students who are living in shelters and temporary housing. The Springfield Rescue Mission has had such a program for a number of years, Pepe told Reminder Publications. After meeting with the Mission director Ron Willoughby, Pepe wanted to expand the program to reach needy students.

She and Willoughby met with Finance Control Board Executive Director Philip Puccia who agreed to seek funding for the effort in the current city budget. Working with the Department of Health, Puccia and Health Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris were able to find $30,000 for the campaign.

Pepe praised members of the School Department for their assistance, especially Henry Figueredo, the executive director of Parent Information Center and School Choice program, for identifying the students in need and devising a way they will remain anonymous.

Pepe said that a number of Springfield businesses and institutions regularly help the city's students, including Baystate Medical Center and Mercy Medial Center, which have their own backpack programs.

"So many people who work in the city of Springfield donate to our school children," Pepe said. "It's overwhelming."