Photo depicting a male-presenting youth, wearing a blue Adidas t-shirt and black baseball cap, picking up a backpack from a volunteer holding a red marker. Behind the youth are groups of individuals picking up various school supplies.

‘Back 2 School Bash’ Pivots to Walk-Through to Provide School Supplies

by M. Anthony Davis

The annual Rainier Beach “Back 2 School Bash” is back this Saturday, Aug. 28, in the Rainier Beach Plaza. This annual event, which started in 2003, has become a staple in the community. This year, even with a few COVID-19 restrictions, the Rainier Beach Action Coalition (RBAC), led by RBAC organizer Danielle Jackson, will present an event full of entertainment, school resources, and the backpack giveaway that has supported students for the last 17 years.

“Because of COVID, we decided we were going to do a drive-through this year,” Jackson tells me. “But because of the bus stops and the layout of the street, we weren’t able to because that would cause traffic to be backed up. So instead, we decided to do a walk-through.”

Jackson and fellow members of RBAC found 30 vendors to support this year’s event. Instead of having cars drive through as originally planned, now the event will allow small groups to walk through the plaza and receive school resources, backpacks, and food. 

“What we’re going to do is allow people to register beforehand,” Jackson explains. “There’s a QR-code where they can register before they arrive or when they get to the plaza. That way, we have less touching and no need for signing papers.”

Once people arrive and are registered, groups of 10–15 people will be escorted by youth volunteers and walk through the plaza gathering items. After people walk through, they will be asked to go back to their vehicles or leave the plaza to avoid people mingling or gathering in the event space and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. 

While COVID-19 precautions have restricted certain aspects of this event, they have not taken away from the community focus. One of the vendors on site will be Safeway, which will provide free on-site vaccinations, and Jackson has partnered with youth in the community to provide livestreamed entertainment.

“The youth are going to be the MCs, and they’re going to do all the entertainment,” Jackson says. “Northwest Tap [Connection] will open. Then there will be poets and rappers, there will be songs. And so we’re going to have some of our young people from RBAC perform.”

All of the performances will be livestreamed on Facebook and available using the same QR-code used for registration. Jackson was happy to have access to the technology that allowed for quick and paperless event registration as well as a platform to hold performances without the need for people to gather in person. 

Another event tradition that will continue thanks to the virtual platform are the Unsung Hero Awards. This year, 19 awards will be distributed during the livestream from categories that include youth community service, community organizer, business of excellence, community food distribution organizer, people’s choice, community elder, impactful partner, executive achievement, and Rainier Beach community steward. All nominees are people who serve the Rainier Beach community.

This year’s addition of the virtual aspects of the “Back 2 School Bash” show how a long-standing community tradition must evolve to keep going. Jackson, who is truly excited to be hosting the event, is happy to have so many youth involved because it will ultimately be up to them to carry the event in the future. 

“This event is really a legacy of Rainier Beach,” Jackson says. “The community really depends on this every year. And our backpacks are not just a backpack, they’re a filled backpack. They’re really nice. We want people to come here, and it’s about serving each other and making sure our kids have everything they need to start the new school year.”

M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.

📸 Featured Image: 2019 Rainier Beach “Back 2 School Bash.” (Photo: Susan Fried)

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