Pierce backpack drive supports Native Americans

The e-mails come every year as the fall semester begins and the holidays approach.

Sent by the same person, under a very peculiar e-mail address – it has the word “cows” in it – they are received by administration, faculty and staff members alike.

With unwavering commitment, Dr. Leland Shapiro, director of the Pre-Veterinary Science program and department chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources department, sends the e-mails out to remind his colleagues of an annual backpack drive he participates in.

Under his leadership, the Pre-Veterinary Club partners with the Walking Shield American Indian Society for the organization’s Holiday Gift Drive.

The club has been working with Walking Shield, a group dedicated to helping improve the quality of life of American Indians nationwide, since 1987.

Throughout the years, the project has evolved from a simple toy drive to a backpack drive.

Shapiro coordinates with Walking Shield to “adopt” a number of children from a specific Indian reservation for the holidays by way of the backpacks.

For this year, the children assigned were from the Chippewa reservation in North Dakota.

“Every year, we try to help the poorest of the children,” Shapiro said. “We don’t work with the reservations that have casinos or oil, because they have an income source.”

Each backpack collected is assigned to a specific child, and is filled with clothing, hygiene items, toys and school supplies.

Only children from the reservation who stay in school from the end of August through the weeks prior to the holidays are eligible to receive stuffed backpacks, said Shapiro.

“The whole point of the program is to encourage kids to stay in school,” said Nicole Vengoechea, the Pre-Veterinary Club member currently in charge of the Walking Shield program.

This year, Shapiro volunteered to help “adopt” 260 children.

Though the Pre-Veterinary Club is mainly in charge of the operation, students and faculty members outside of the club also help out in whatever way they can.

For instance, students and faculty of the Child Development program volunteered to supply 40 children aged 3 to 5 with backpacks.

The Child Development Center also assisted in meeting the quota this year, stuffing 10 backpacks with supplies.

“It’s a way to kick off the holiday season,” said Assistant Professor of Child Development Tracy Drelen. “We take donations throughout the year. We really try to step it up and make it bigger and better.”

Though Shapiro admits that the current economic situation has made it harder to ask people to make donations, he commends his colleagues for their willingness to help out.

He recalls a particular situation two years ago, when, four days before the all the backpacks needed to be collected, he realized that he still needed 30 backpacks.

“I sent one more [e-mail] and in three days, I had all of them,” he said. “I can’t thank the faculty enough. They’ve been overwhelmingly helpful throughout the years.”

If you would like to donate supplies for next year’s haul, e-mail nicole.vengoechea@yahoo.com.

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