8-12-20 Backpack givaway group

North Country Cares executive director Emily Smith-Mossman (left) has help from her daughter Nico Mossman, 13, and sister Katie Smith (right) while they pack up 250 hygiene bags to go with the 250 backpacks for the annual giveaway. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)

CONWAY — For a seventh year, North Country Cares will be holding its annual Back-to-School Backpack Giveaway in North Conway.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will be different this time around, said Emily Smith-Mossman, the organization’s executive director, and Holly Sares, board president.

The biggest change is there will be no clothing giveaway. Instead, the event will be done via outdoor pickup, with parents asked to drive into the parking lot from 4-6 p.m. at First Church of Christ, Congregational at 2503 White Mountain Highway, where volunteers and board members will distribute 250 backpacks filled with school supplies.

They will also hand out toiletry bags (for girls, boys and gender-neutral, on request).

Smith-Mossman said: “Although not everyone will be choosing to go back to school (my daughter Nico is going to continue to do remote learning, for example), she and other children will still need school supplies.”

Sares said board member Amy Edmunds of Conway and her niece Laura Lucas packed all the backpacks at their house “and got all the supplies without any help from us so we owe them a big thanks.”

“We are asking people to wear masks in the drive-through,” Sares added.

Last year, the organization gave away 300 backpacks when the event was held at the North Conway Community Center.

Smith-Mossman said although her organization has been frustrated to not be able to open its #TheRevolvingCloset used-clothing boutique upstairs at the church, they continue to fill needs in the community for families and the young.

“When there is a fire, we often are there before the American Red Cross to provide clothing and supplies,” said Smith-Mossman. “There are a lot of things that we do at North Country Cares that people may be unaware of but which we are doing to help the homeless, local youth and families.”

She said North Country Cares is working with Tri-County Community Action Program Family Services and other non-profits to provide assistance.

“We’re working with DCY (N.H. Division of Children Youth) and local school systems to address needs. If a child needs a pair of sneakers, for example, we’ll provide them by dropping them off at the school in a bag. They (the recipients) never know where it comes from,” said Smith-Mossman.

North Country Cares also works with Starting Point Services for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence, homeless veterans and the Way Station, to name a few other non-profits.

Last winter the group set up a clothing drop-off near Bea’s Cafe in Conway. “Coats, hats, mittens and other winter clothing were dropped off as John Dembinski, one of our board members, made an awesome enclosed closet to keep the clothing safe from the elements,” said Smith-Mossman. “But now, due to the pandemic, we cannot do that, which is frustrating.”

Other volunteers are Adam Lane-Olson, Dede Frost, Louisa Gagnon, Sherry Hogdon and Lee Coffield.

Started as a way to provide a needy teen with a pair of sneakers, the program has evolved and grown. Smith-Mossman and Sares said the organization is seeking a larger and more accessible home. For more information or to donate, call Smith-Mossman at (603) 662-3443 or Sares at (603) 520-8274.

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