Back-to-School Festival draws 500 kids
by Kellen Short
An effort of numerous community groups and individuals, the event was the culmination of months of planning and weeks of donation collection efforts designed to send local students back to school excited and prepared.
Amber Bateman, founder of Quiet Givers and an organizer of the festival, said they originally expected to serve about 125 students, and a line stretched out the door.
But as the number of students grew in the weeks preceding the event, so did the contributions from individuals, churches and businesses, Bateman said.
"I was blown away by the community response," Bateman said. "I didn't expect such a positive acceptance and such a positive support system."
In addition to receiving book bags and school supplies, families could select donated jeans and clothing, books, and other items.
"It's a little daunting for a mother of five to look at what back-to-school means," said Piper Collins of Boone, who attended Saturday.
She said she didn't usually buy back-to-school clothes for her children, but they'll have them this year thanks to the festival.
Collins added that one of the best parts was waiting in the line outside, talking to other parents and being reminded that so many others are in the same situation.
She said she hopes to be on the other end next year, volunteering to help others who could use a leg up.
Local community groups, from churches to Girl Scouts to the Hospitality House, set up booths to share information about their services, and stylists donated their time to provide free hair cuts to kids.
"We have four daughters, and it's a tremendous help," said Amanda Coffey of Blowing Rock, as she watched her second-grader get a free haircut from Lindsey Gantt of Split Endz. "I'm telling you, the Lord works through these people in an amazing way. It makes you feel blessed."
Representatives from Watauga County Schools also were present to connect with parents and share information. Interim Superintendent David Fonseca said while the event wasn't coordinated by the school system, they were pleased to be involved.
He said he's already offered Watauga High School as a possible festival site for next year.
"It's just amazing to see this much community support," he said.
Bateman said the size and impact of the event was something she expected she might see in three years, not the first year. She said volunteers were making lists of any supplies students weren't able to get and hoped to fulfill as many of those outstanding needs as possible.
"We want it to be a positive experience and we want it to be a dignified experience for people to start fresh," she said.