In 2013, when Coltan Cruz volunteered for the Back-to-School Clothing Drive for the first time, he had no idea what to expect.
Today, seven years later, he can’t get enough of the annual clothes-and-school supply giveaway for more than 5,000 elementary students from 130 Title 1 schools in the metro area.
In fact, he loves the program so much that he takes a week of vacation every year from his responsibilities in the Bank of America Tax Operations Department to work somewhere between 70 and 90 hours doing anything and everything he’s needed to do.
While many of the bank’s 800 volunteers at the event choose to be “personal shoppers,” guiding the kids from station to station to select school uniforms, clothes, shoes, school supplies and more, Colt, as he’s known, quietly and efficiently goes about his work, mostly below the radar.
“I’m a behind-the-scenes guy,” the Glendale resident said. “The first year I was involved I helped with security, escorting the kids from one building to another. Now I do anything they need done to make sure the process keeps flowing, from unloading boxes from the trucks to even picking up the garbage. I love being involved.”
Last year, he recorded 39,000 steps in one day. Spend even 30 minutes at the Back-to-School Clothing Drive, annually hosted by Grand Canyon University, and it’s easy to see why.
Constantly on the move, he’s everywhere: piling cartons of supplies onto a dolly for distribution to each “department,” helping volunteers open stubborn boxes of belts to ensure inventory stays consistent and scanning the floor to see who may need a helping hand, among countless other chores.
“Colt is a remarkable volunteer,” said Karl Gentles, the Back-to-School Clothing Drive’s executive director. “Just knowing he’s in the building is a comfort to all of us because he makes our jobs that much easier. We’re incredibly lucky to have him on the team.”
During most of the year, that team is less than five people. And yet, over 12 months, the 52-year-old Back-to-School Clothing Drive impacts more than 25,000 children at 260 schools in 40 districts, making it the largest school-supply organization in Arizona.
It all culminates with the week-long giveaway, the biggest event of the year and most important in achieving the organization’s mission to break down barriers to early childhood school success, build self-esteem and self-confidence and, ultimately, confident, strong students ready to learn, achieve and advance. Colt’s employer has sponsored the event for 10 years.
“We can’t do what we do without our volunteers, and our volunteers can’t do what they need to do without someone like Colt working behind the scenes,” Gentles said.
For Colt, that’s the easy part.
“I look forward to it every year,” he said. “I can’t wait.”