When the boxes arrived on her doorstep, Monique Braswell was not prepared for what was inside.
The Richmond County Council of PTAs president’s back-to-school drive is scheduled for Aug. 11, so she ordered 2,500 backpacks from online school supply company DollarDays.com to give away at the event.
The first 1,500 showed up Thursday, and when she ripped into the cardboard, the stench of mold hit her. She pulled the backpacks from the first box and found broken zippers, tears, holes and specks of mold lining the insides. About 1,000 were like that, she said.
“I cried a long time,” Braswell said Friday. “I woke up this morning crying. We are less than seven days outside giving this event, and we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Braswell contacted the company Thursday night and got a response by Friday afternoon. Jason Pedersen, DollarDays’ vice president of sales, said he would replace all damaged bags, which he estimated at 386. Braswell estimated their number to be about 1,000. Pedersen said he will continue to monitor the PTA’s order to replace any bags that are unsatisfactory.
“It’s unacceptable quality,” Pedersen said. “It’s not something that we’re used to putting out.”
Pedersen said that Braswell ordered several varieties of book bags and that most of the damage came from one manufacturer, which his company has since taken off the Web site. Others got wet in shipping, which accounts for the mold, he said.
“It comes on a slow boat from China, is the old saying,” Pedersen said, adding that his company is willing to replace any more bags Braswell finds damaged.
The backpacks were purchased with $9,000 of PTA money donated by members. At the school kick-off event Aug. 11, the PTA plans to offer health screenings, haircuts, face painting and information sessions. And, it hopes, backpacks.
Although the bags will be replaced, Braswell said the issue puts pressure on her and 30 volunteers to get the event rolled out in time. The group still has to receive and take all the bags to James Brown Arena in time for distribution.
“It’s sad we were about to give these kids these dirty book bags,” said Braswell’s son Tahj Manigault, 11, who helped inspect the bags. “It’s ridiculous.”
PTA member Bonita Times said she was disappointed with the bags that were in salvageable condition. Even those, Times said, had to be washed.
Times and Braswell said they are grateful they started inspecting the bags early. They had planned to keep the bags in boxes and unload them for the first time the day of the event.
“This was terrible, but could have been worse,” Times said. “It’s a good thing we started early.”