How to pay it forward and help Virginia kids who need backpacks for school

An Alexandria, Virginia-based group is helping children in need prepare for the new school year, by providing backpacks, haircuts and school supplies.

The nonprofit Firefighters and Friends to the Rescue has been helping kids kick off school on the right foot since 1998.



The organization, which accepts financial donations through its website, said it plans to distribute approximately 2,500 backpacks with school supplies between Aug. 14 and 19 at the following locations.

  • Sunday, Aug. 14, between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., at the Charles Houston Recreation Center, 901 Wythe St., Alexandria (free haircuts and backpacks).
  • Tuesday, Aug. 16, between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. at the Pen Daw-Fire Station 11, 6624 Hulvey Terrace, Alexandria (backpacks to 50+ schools and shelters only).
  • Wednesday, Aug. 17, between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., at the Gum Springs Community Center, 8100 Fordson Road, Alexandria (free haircuts and backpacks).
  • Wednesday, Aug. 17, between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., at the Hybla Valley Community Center, 7950 Audubon Ave., Alexandria (backpacks).

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Willie Bailey said he founded the group following his experience growing up and not being able to afford backpacks and haircuts for school. Backpacks can be a particularly expensive item for families with limited resources.

He said there were people out there who helped him and his siblings get what they needed to attend school and he’s “just basically paying it forward.”

Barbers and beauticians will help out by giving kids haircuts in Alexandria and Fairfax. That makes the start of school a positive event for the children.

“It helps build self esteem for these kids. I remember growing up sometimes not having a haircut to start off school and you see everybody else going to school with a fresh haircut,” Bailey said.

“You get to that day, when you start school … you have everything you need to go to school, and you have a brand new haircut … and you look just like everybody else.”

Bailey told WTOP over 2,000 backpacks with supplies are distributed in Fairfax County and Alexandria City.

Donated backpacks are being collected at 11 Starbucks in Fairfax County through Aug. 12.

Backpack Drive Flyer
CLICK TO ENLARGE: Donation information courtesy of Willie F. Bailey.

Tadiwos Abedje

Tadi Abedje is a freelance digital writer/editor for WTOP. He was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Northern Virginia. Journalism has been his No. 1 passion since he was a kid and he is blessed to be around people, telling their stories and sharing them with the world.

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