Back-to-School Clothing Drive getting kids ready to tackle new year

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PHOENIX -- Thousands of Phoenix elementary school students will have the changes to go back-to-school shopping this week at Grand Canyon University.

The "New Clothes, New Beginnings" drive is the state's largest school clothing and supply distribution event and it's going on through July 25 at the Grand Canyon University Arena, which opened in September.

The arena was bustling with volunteers Monday morning.

"It's amazing. The kids get so excited," said volunteer coordinator Brooke Kramer. "It's amazing to see how happy they are to have their own things to start off the school year."

Karl Gentles, executive director of Back-to-School Clothing Drive, explained that everything the kids will be receiving is brand new.

"It's really important that they have clothes and school supplies, just like their peers," he said. "That's what this is all about, really getting them ready to learn and taking away any issues about having the right clothes on …."

While this drive is the largest of its kind and helps thousands of kids in kindergarten through sixth grade, it's not open to the general public.

"Participating students are selected by their school’s parent coordinator, social worker or school nurse using strict criteria to ensure the highest-need children are served," explains the Back-to-School Clothing Drive website.

When all is said and done, the 5,800 kids who were preselected for the program will take home new clothes and merchandise totaling about $1.8 million. But that's not all. They also will have the opportunity to take part in a variety of hands-on learning activities.

"In addition to receiving more than $1.8 million in new school clothes and supplies, the 5,800 [preselected] elementary school students participating will participate in a variety of hands-on learning activities," a GCU representative said in a news release.

"Bringing these students on campus will show them a college education is attainable," Gentles, said in a news release. "In many cases this will be the first time they have been to a university. We want to close the loop between preparing them for school today and seeking a higher education tomorrow. We also have a number of high school volunteers, and I can see them benefiting from this university exposure as well."

Back-to-School Clothing Drive was founded in 1967 with the express purpose of providing clothing , backpacks and school supplies to children in need throughout Arizona.

"With the help of our volunteers, corporate sponsors, foundation grants, and donors, Back-to-School Clothing Drive allows students to focus on what’s truly important – getting an education," reads the organization's website.

With its three main programs, including New Clothes, New Beginnings," Back-to-School Clothing Drive helps more than 25,000 children from 140 schools in 40 Arizona school districts.