Four-year-old Joseph Diepeveen wore a wide smile and a brand-new backpack almost taller than he.
"He’s loving it right now," said Joseph’s father, Sean. "I think they’re all really excited right now."
Joseph’s siblings, 8-year-old Isabelle and 6-year-old Sophia, all sported new backpacks full of papers, folders, pencils, markers, crayons and other school supplies. They received them as part of Operation Back2School, an event put on by Operation Homefront Washington.
"This shows the community really cares about the military," said Sean Diepeveen, a staff sergeant with the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Lewis.
That’s the point, said Janice Buckley, the president of Operation Homefront Washington. Companies and individuals donated the products to the organization, which helps military families. Organizers began soliciting donations and spreading the word about the event three months ago.
Organizers distributed more than 1,500 backpacks to children of service members from across Washington. Cool weather and the threat of rain didn’t drive people away; hundreds waited more than 90 minutes before the event began.
"They were just lining up around the building, around the corner," said Susan Allen, the volunteer coordinator with Operation Homefront Washington. "People came from Fort Lewis, McChord (Air Force Base), Whidbey Island, Bremerton. I’m really excited about the turnout."
Operation Homefront Washington started the backpack giveaway last year, but Saturday’s event was about three times larger, Allen said. Lakewood Ford offered use of its building on Pacific Highway SW.
"We try to do as much as we can with the military because they’re right next door," operations manager Greg Anderson said. "We’ve never done anything like this before. Being able to host this is just a fun deal."
Titina Deagan drove her 9-year-old son, Jordan, to the event. They live on Fort Lewis, and Titina said the backpacks will be a big help for some of her neighbors.
"On post, there are families who are struggling," she said. "It helps, especially with the economy today. Every little thing helps."