Brightly colored backpacks lined nearly the entire length of the hallway outside the River Ridge High School gym. Looking down at her collection, Debi Shackowsky couldn’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed.

“There are 1,500 here,” she said, “and 1,800 more will be here this afternoon.”

Looking at the hundreds of backpacks also gave Shackowsky an uplifted feeling. The founder of Marjorie’s Hope, a nonprofit group that provides back-to-school supplies for Pasco County children, has seen her mission grow from humble beginnings.

“The first year we met in Debi’s living room,” said 14-year old Raynee Meek, who has been volunteering with Marjorie’s Hope for all nine years of its existence. “It’s really an eye opener.”

In 2008, Shackowsky and a few volunteers scraped together 45 backpacks to distribute to children at area schools. Shackowsky, who had been donating school supplies out of her own pocket, felt compelled to give back because of her sister’s example.

“She was amazing,” said Shackowsky. “She had a zest for life that many of us adults would love to recapture.”

Her sister, Marjorie, for whom the nonprofit is named, died 21 years ago in a head-on car crash in Tallahassee. Her sister described her as giving and loving.

“It was, I think, her hope, wish and dream to make sure that no child went without, and so it becomes Marjorie’s Hope that we continue that,” said Shackowsky.

That hope fueled the dream of getting school supplies to every child that needed them before each Pasco County school year. The backpacks include pencils, pens, paper and other learning-related items. For older students, toiletries and personal hygiene items are also donated.

This Saturday, on the anniversary of Marjorie’s death, Marjorie’s Hope will distribute over 3,300 backpacks stuffed with school necessities to school administrators from all over the county.

Those administrators will then hand out the backpacks to students at their schools who need them.

“I think we can get much bigger,” said Meek.

The hope is that they will. In just nine years, Marjorie’s Hope expanded from 45 backpacks to 3,300.

It’s exactly like Marjorie would have wanted.

Marjorie’s Hope is in memory of my sister who loved God and loved her children,” said Shackowsky.

Even ones she never got to meet.

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