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 Sarah Bamford, of Shelby Township, holds up a photo of her deceased daughter, Kate, while Sabrina Swoish, from Macomb Township, holds up a photo of her deceased son, Dominic, at Burr Elementary School in Sterling Heights. In front are Bamford’s children Jack and Nate, and Swoish’s daughter, Gianna. The families are surrounded by backpacks they collected as part of a charity drive.

Sarah Bamford, of Shelby Township, holds up a photo of her deceased daughter, Kate, while Sabrina Swoish, from Macomb Township, holds up a photo of her deceased son, Dominic, at Burr Elementary School in Sterling Heights. In front are Bamford’s children Jack and Nate, and Swoish’s daughter, Gianna. The families are surrounded by backpacks they collected as part of a charity drive.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Moms’ school backpack drive honors kids’ memory

By: Eric Czarnik | C&G Newspapers | Published August 29, 2019

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — For Sarah Bamford, the first day of kindergarten this year won’t be the way she once envisioned it, with her daughter Kate. But thanks to a charity drive she helped organize, the day will still be meaningful.

“When you lose a child, you worry that they will eventually be forgotten by everyone but you,” Bamford said in an email. “Each year brings new milestones you don’t get to experience with them, so you try your best to find ways to honor their memory.”

Bamford, from Shelby Township, and Sabrina Swoish, from Macomb Township, organized a summer campaign to collect backpacks and school supplies to donate to local children in need for this school year.

Both are mothers who have experienced the death of a young child, and they hope to make back-to-school season easier and more joyous for other families.

Bamford said she started exploring the idea with the Utica Community Schools district. She said she got the idea of doing a backpack donation campaign from another mother who lives out of state and who donates a backpack annually in memory of her deceased daughter.

Bamford reached out to her friend, Swoish, whom she has known since 2014. The two met when Bamford, a nurse,  took care of Swoish’s son, Dominic.

“We kind of kept (in) touch on Facebook,” Bamford said. “She reached out to me when my daughter became ill.”  

Bamford said Kate was born in 2014 and died at 3 months from spinal muscular atrophy with respiratory distress type 1. Dominic died in 2016 at age 2 due to complications arising from premature birth.

Both children would have started kindergarten this year, and the timing spurred Bamford to want to make a difference in other children’s lives.

“I touched base with Sabrina after that, and we made a plan to collect backpacks from the beginning of August till about the middle of August,” Bamford said.

Originally, the pair only expected to collect and fill 20-50 backpacks with school supplies, and the Sterling Heights Kiwanis Club helped the women with ideas. Bamford said they collected spiral notebooks, folders, rulers, pencils, markers, crayons, scissors, erasers, glue and glue sticks.

But the response was overwhelming. The moms ended up getting donated supplies to collect and fill 150 backpacks, with enough leftover supplies to help the Kiwanis Club fill about 20 more of its own backpacks.

“We ended up posting (the charity drive) on Facebook,” Bamford said. “We spread it with our friends and family in the community that way, but we never went beyond word-of-mouth and posting it on Facebook.”

Swoish explained how the campaign grew.

“Facebook was insane,” she said. “Every time I got a donation, I posted who it was from and I would give a shout-out to them … something that would remind me of them and how we knew each other. The more I posted about it, the more stuff came in.”

The moms said the campaign seemed to bring new donations in daily, whether it was backpacks, school supplies, money or gift cards. And soon Swoish’s home was swamped with stored, donated materials. Bamford said she used the monetary donations to buy additional supplies in order to fill as many bookbags as they could.

Both mothers have children who attend UCS schools. Swoish thanked Utica Community Schools families for their support, particularly Duncan Elementary School, which she said contributed generously, partly due to her daughter going there.

“Everyone was so generous at my daughter’s school,” Swoish added. “They all go above and beyond. I didn’t expect what I got.”

The mothers said they hope the school supplies will make other children smile — including those who otherwise could have been Kate and Dominic’s friends.

“It showed us that our children are not forgotten this school year, and that means the world to us,” Bamford said. “I know that we’ll be on the lookout throughout the school year for some of those backpacks we filled, knowing that a little piece of Kate and Dominic is part of UCS this year after all.”

Find out more about Utica Community Schools by visiting www.uticak12.org or by calling (586) 797-1000.

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