Brian Mazurek / Peninsula Clarion                                 Chastity Swafford, right, gives a free backpack and school supplies to Heather Perry, left, as part of Peninsula Community Health Center’s drive-thru backpack giveaway in Kenai on Wednesday.

Brian Mazurek / Peninsula Clarion Chastity Swafford, right, gives a free backpack and school supplies to Heather Perry, left, as part of Peninsula Community Health Center’s drive-thru backpack giveaway in Kenai on Wednesday.

Getting packed up for school

Community health center offers kids new backpacks for the start of school.

A local community health center spent Wednesday afternoon giving away 300 backpacks to kids in Kenai and Soldotna in preparation for the upcoming school year.

Last year, Peninsula Community Health Services held their first KidFest, which brought Kenai Peninsula parents and kids to the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna to learn about healthy habits while playing games, winning prizes and collecting back-to-school supplies.

This year, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to organize the event in the same way. Peninsula Community Health Services CEO Ben Wright said Wednesday that they still wanted to make sure kids in the community could at least get a new backpack for the start of school.

From noon to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, PCHS employees were stationed outside the three PCHS clinics — the dental and medical clinics in Kenai and the main campus in Soldotna. Parents could simply drive up and get a brand new backpack for free.

“I think it’s a good thing to get the kids excited about school, even in this time when everything’s changing,” Wright said. “We firmly believe that we are part of the community. The community supports us and we support them in return, and this is part of it.”

Wright said that in addition to providing the free backpacks for the kids on Tuesday, PCHS has been providing COVID-19 testing to peninsula residents and has used telehealth services to minimize the foot traffic at the clinics and mitigate potential spread of the disease.

“From my perspective as the CEO of the organization, I’m amazed at the character of the people that are working there and how committed they are to ensure the safety, health and well-being of the people being served. And without complaint,” Wright said. “They’re willing to do all these different things where they’re exposed, and they know they’re exposed, but they keep trying and trying to make it better for everybody.”

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District schools open Aug. 24. The central peninsula, however, will have remote classes until at least Sept. 8 due to the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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