Backpacks, pencils, crayons and other school supplies lined tables in the commons area at Seymour High School on Saturday morning.
By the afternoon, most of it was gone.
The Rock’n Ready school supply drive committee conducted its annual school supply distribution day, marking an end to its efforts of collecting school supplies for students in need in Jackson County and helping students and families begin the school year with new supplies.
Sheyonia Anderson registered and brought her son, Miguel, an incoming fourth-grader at Seymour-Redding Elementary School, to the distribution day to pick out a new backpack and school supplies.
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Miguel quietly walked around the tables, examining each item to ensure he made the right choice. Even though he likes red, he chose an army green backpack with black on it with orange adjusting straps.
“I picked this one because I need a bigger one for fourth grade,” the 10-year-old said after making his way through the line. “It was my favorite thing I got today.”
Miguel’s backpack was just one of more than 700 the committee estimates it gave out Saturday. The committee also estimates it collected and distributed more than 19,000 school supply items.
For Anderson and many other parents, the school supply distribution is a godsend.
“As a single mom, this really helps me, especially with absorbing the cost and having to go do it myself at the store,” she said. “This is a great program to help with that.”
Anderson said the event saved her money she will be able to use elsewhere for this school year. She already has in mind what she needs.
“With that, I am going to go get his school clothes,” she said.
This school year, Anderson won’t be too far from her son because she works in the cafeteria at Redding.
“We will be close throughout the day, and I’ll get to see him with his new backpack,” she said.
Anderson also will be in school, as she is starting at Ivy Tech Community College later this month to study business operations administration and technology.
With much on her mind about a new school year for her son and herself, Rock’n Ready took a little stress off of her back by providing much-needed school supplies.
“I think he has everything he needs to start the year,” she said.
Julia Aker and Myra Mellencamp were co-chairwomen of the event, and both have been on the committee since it began.
Aker, who volunteers through a variety of organizations, said this is one of her favorite events each year because it helps people like Anderson and many others.
“This has been one of my favorite community projects with the schools and community agencies working together to benefit the kids in the community,” she said following the day of work.
There is much work that is associated with co-chairing the event. The two met with committee members throughout the year for updates, promoted and marketed the event, helped secure supplies and various other tasks.
Being part of the committee is a lot of work, but Aker said the moments of seeing a child pick out and get excited about a new backpack make all of the work worth it.
“Seeing the kids’ faces as they pick out their own items motivates most of us,” she said.
Aker said the committee also helps teachers. All of the unclaimed supplies are distributed equally to schools for teachers so they don’t have to purchase items out of pocket.
“Teachers are also appreciative to not have to spend so much of their own money on class supplies,” she said.
Bonita Dobbs, program manager for Jackson County United Way, said many teachers and principals are grateful for the leftover supplies the committee gives to the schools.
“It also helps our educators who often dig deep into their own pockets to provide supplies to the students,” she said. “It offers a bit of financial relief to both the students’ families as well as the teachers and principals.”
Dobbs also coordinates almost every facet of the project.
She said the distribution day is successful because of the number of volunteers the committee recruits and also the number of repeat volunteers the committee uses.
“The operation runs smoothly, as many of the volunteers have volunteered in the past and just know what to do,” she said. “We have an extraordinary committee who are completely committed to making this a successful event.”
The committee had 55 volunteers for distribution, 20 for the Rock’n Ready 5K race that accompanies the event and 30 more who assist with sorting supplies and setting and cleaning up the event.
But the work isn’t only for one day, as the committee had more than 200 volunteers help collect school supplies.
“This is really a two-week event with the collection, sorting, set up and final distribution that is a well-oiled machine because of the returning volunteers,” Dobbs said.
She said the work the committee does serves a very important purpose in helping local families get what they need to start the school year.
“We want to be sure the children, our future community leaders, get off to the best start possible on that first day,” she said.
Conversations with local social workers and principals reveal that students who are ready with supplies to start the school year display more confidence than those who don’t, so the new supplies have an impact beyond just the financial relief, Dobbs said.
The event also features several booths that provide information for other resources that may be of help to those in the community. Jackson County Public Library, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Mental Health America of Jackson County and several others were there to share resources with families as they exited the supply distribution line.
Dobbs said everyone involved with the project has one goal in mind.
“It really is our greatest desire to be sure that every child who needs supplies receives them,” she said.
The committee’s work already has had an impact on at least 700 students this year like Miguel, who will start the school year with everything he needs to learn.
“My favorite subjects in school are math and reading,” Miguel said, grinning with his new backpack around his shoulders. “I’m looking forward to learning this year.”