The annual Dan Donnelly school supply and backpack distribution party Aug. 5 was the biggest in the program’s nine-year history, according to founder Dan Donnelly.

“I’ve never seen so many people,” he said. “You wonder where they all come from.”

Sandy Clark, apartment manager, saw her dream of supplying backpacks for area youngsters turned into a reality when she teamed up with Donnelly, who was a Pacific police officer at the time. He has since retired from the force.

“I was sitting on the apartment step crying and this police officer stopped and asked why I was crying,” she said. “I told him I just wished I could find a way to get school supplies for the kids in the apartments.”

Donnelly immediately said he would help and pledged $500 to help buy the supplies, she said.

“He came back in half an hour and said, ‘My wife and I will donate $1,000.’ And that was the beginning,” Clark said.

“For the first two years Dan and his wife bought all the supplies,” she said.

The ease with which news of the program spread through the community surprised both Clark and Donnelly. More neighborhoods wanted school supplies and local organizations and individuals wanted to help.

On Aug. 5, Donnelly and Clark enjoyed their ninth annual school supplies and backpack giveaway party in the city park. More than 450 backpacks were distributed, along with more than 100 free haircuts. Some 400 hamburgers and hot dogs, donated by the Eagles, were cooked, wrapped in foil and handed out, as were 400 Subway cookies, chips, chilled soda and bottled water.

The event, which has grown into an end-of-summer celebration, included free pool passes for participating children, and 18 bicycles were raffled off.

Hairstylists worked over a three-hour period. One of the stylists was Chastity Clark, daughter of the founder.

“This is what it’s growing into,” Donnelly said. “Chastity grew up as one of the kids who received free backpacks. When she became a stylist, she wanted to give something back.”

As the last backpacks were handed out, the crowd beneath a large shade tree outside the pavilion grew as patrons waited for the big moment when Donnelly would reach into the plastic bag tied to the handlebars of the 18 bicycles, and called out the name of the bike’s new owner. The bike raffle has turned into a regular feature of the backpack party.

Cleta Null from Adopt-a-Family provides the bicycles. This year, an anonymous patron donated $200 for the organization to provide a properly fitted helmet with each bike.

Total cost of this year’s supplies was approximately $18,000.

The Donnelly Backpack Foundation was formed four years ago with a board of directors to help set policy and plan fundraising to purchase the supplies.

The next big fundraiser is Sept. 30 — with a rib cookoff and Freedom of Road Riders (FORR) motorcycle exhibit at the Pacific Eagles, 700 W. Congress.