Hundreds of Arlington students receive school supplies thanks to VOAWW and local churches


ARLINGTON, Washington. – Arlington Assembly, in partnership with Volunteers of America Western Washington (VOAWW), Arlington School District, and Life Church 360, hosted a Back to School Celebration on Saturday, August 14, which provided more than 500 students hundreds of school supplies entering the 2021 school year.

In addition to free school supplies, including backpacks and books, and connecting the community to literacy programs and healthcare resources, the Arlington event provided a safe place for families and community members to enjoy a day of free food and entertainment.

“The bottom line is reconnecting families coming out of COVID and having supplies and resources on their hands,” Taunya Sanchez, children’s director for Arlington Assembly, told the Lynnwood Times.

(L-R) Caroline Neal, site director for the Arlington Community Resource Center, Ilsa Chigbrow, LIFEchurch360, outreach director, and Taunya Sanchez, children’s director for the Arlington Assembly. Source: Lynnwood Times/Kienan Briscoe.

The back-to-school celebration began in 2012 when Sanchez was working as a volunteer at the youth church. After receiving several calls from the Arlington School District asking to help kids find backpacks, she realized there was a much bigger picture that needed to be addressed. Sanchez sat down with local churches, a community health center and other entities, to think about how they could connect families to resources.

Arlington Assembly took a 5-year hiatus once the Arlington School District began providing school supplies to students.

“The backpacks are the benefit, but it’s about reconnecting with families, making sure they have medical insurance, answering questions and just trying to keep in touch with the families who need that special touch,” Sanchez said.

arlington assembly church
Arlington Assembly located at 201 N Stillaguamish Ave, Arlington. Source: Lynnwood Times/Kienan Briscoe.

Typically, an event like this to provide 1,300 backpacks takes a year of planning. But with only six weeks to plan, the team was able to provide 536 backpacks to students. Sanchez, along with Caroline Neal, site manager of the Arlington Community Resource Center, hope that with more time to plan next year, they can expand the program to include haircuts, dental vans and even mammograms.

“Our ultimate goal, at the end of the day, is that we just want our families to know that their community loves them. We support them and we are here for them,” Sanchez told the Lynnwood Times.

The Western Washington Volunteers of America branch works in partnership with the Arlington Assembly, which began more than a hundred years ago in Everett as an outpost of the Seattle-based branch. Initially, it offered programs centered around the men’s rehab center and thrift stores. In 1927, services expanded to meet the region’s growing needs, and the outpost became a separate branch of the National Volunteers of America.

Between 1927 and 1978, the chapter grew to include several new programs, including a Sunday school, youth programs, and Camp Volasuca, a summer camp in Sultan. In 1971 and 1974, through many local partnerships, new camp facilities were built, including a large and a small A-frame and bathhouses.

arlington school supplies
Back to school event in Arlington. Source: Lynnwood Times/Kienan Briscoe.

In 1985, the national office granted a charter to begin operating as a Washington State nonprofit corporation.

“Our neighbors are in need and we must be their direct contact. A lot of people don’t even know who their neighbors are – that’s what we have to come back to,” Tina Mandela, site manager of the Lake Stevens Community Resource Center, Volunteers of America, told the Lynnwood Times.

Dan Spano, senior pastor of the Arlington Assembly, believes the return of this event is a step in the right direction to provide the community with resources and support. After this year’s success, he told the Lynnwood Times that the church, “without a doubt”, will host events in the years to come.

“We like the community side. Different churches are involved and different people from the community come together – it’s just great,” Pastor Spano told the Lynnwood Times.

Volunteers of America, in conjunction with the Lake Stevens School District, will host a similar back-to-school event this Saturday, August 21 from 2-4 p.m. at the VOA Lake Stevens Community Resource Center at 9015 Vernon Road. The event is drive-in only and free or discounted meals will be offered thanks to the Hungry Hearts Foundation. Participants will be required to provide valid proof of their child’s enrollment in the Lake Stevens School District.

Anyone interested in volunteering for Volunteers of America Western Washington can contact Tina Mandela at or call 425-405-2252.

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