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Organizers for this year’s Back 2 School Festival are seeking volunteers, donations and sponsors for the event which assists families and children in preparing for the upcoming school year.

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Originally published: 2014-07-05 14:15:05
Last modified: 2014-07-05 14:16:56

School supplies now accepted; festival forming

by Staff Reports

Pack-the-Bus is back in the Yadkin Bank parking lot and will remain until Aug. 4.

Similar to last year, organizers of Watauga's Back 2 School Festival will park a big yellow school bus at Yadkin Bank to collect school supplies for this year's festival.  

Individuals, families and groups wishing to donate school supplies can drop them off at the bus anytime during regular business hours.

A complete list of needed school supplies can be found at http://www.back2schoolfestival.org/school-supply-lists/.

"The average school supply list contains more than 31 items and costs over $100 per child," said Quiet Givers founder and festival organizer Amber Batemen. "And that doesn't include other items needed to start school like haircuts, clothes, shoes and socks, school fees and more."

The Back 2 School Festival seeks to streamline Watauga County school readiness efforts in order to have a greater impact in the community, according to Batemen. It is designed to help relieve any family struggling to afford the high costs of back-to-school shopping, give each child the much-needed boost of confidence to succeed in the coming school year and to help teachers equip their classrooms for a year of learning.
 
"If every child in Watauga County can start school feeling confident and prepared, then we've achieved our goal," Bateman said.

The free festival, organized by Quiet Givers, The Children's Council, Western Youth Network, Hospitality House, Women's Fund of the Blue Ridge, Appalachian District Health Department and Watauga County Schools, will take place Saturday, Aug. 9, at the Watauga High School gym. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a special hour from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.  for children with special needs.

The festival will offer free backpacks, school supplies, professional haircuts, shoes from Samaritan's Feet, book giveaways, fun activities, beneficial information and healthy lunch provided by Earth Fare and Hospitality House. 

Additionally, once at the festival, children in need of clothing will be registered to win gift certificates to Goodwill, Freedom Farm Ministry, Bare Bones Boutique and Salvation Army thrift shops.

Parents are asked to pre-register their children so that organizers will know how many to expect and can have the correct shoes sizes on hand.
 
To pre-register go online at http://www.back2schoolfestival.org/registeryourchild/ or call the Children's Council at (828) 262-5424.
 
To ensure that no child walks away empty-handed, event organizers are asking for help from the community.

"In our first year, 539 extremely grateful children were served by the festival. By looking at the numbers we know that there are over 1,500 Watauga County kids on free or reduced lunch so we are planning for 1,000 Watauga County kids at this year's festival," Bateman said. "We need community support to meet all the needs."

In addition to helping Pack-the-Bus, community members can get involved by participating in the Thrift Store Exchange Program. Simply take any donated items to Bare Bones Boutique, Freedom Farm Ministry Thrift Shop, Goodwill or Salvation Army and tell them it's for the Back 2 School Festival. In exchange for the donations, the festival will be given gift certificates to be handed out to children in need of clothing.

In addition to individual donations, festival organizers are in need of volunteers to help set up and work the festival, business sponsors to help underwrite the cost of the festival, hairstylists to provide free haircuts, nonprofit organizations to host an activity booth, churches to collect backpacks and civic groups to collect hard-to-get school supplies such as  scientific calculators, graph paper, mechanical pencils and weekly planners. 

To get involved, visit http://www.back2schoolfestival.org/get-involved/ and register yourself or your organization, Bateman said.

With 29 percent of Watauga County living in poverty, last year's event made a big difference in the lives of Watauga children, she said.

With the average school supplies lists containing over 31 items and totaling over $100 per child in addition to clothing, fall sports, school fees, field trips, school pictures and PTO needs, family's budgets are stretched thin during the first few months of school, Bateman said.

 School social workers noticed a steep decline in need during the first week of school, noting that the only children served were ones who just moved here and were unaware of the festival, according to Bateman. As one mother of three stated, "My husband just passed away so we moved to Boone to be closer to family.  We are completely starting over.  I don't know what I would have done without this event to help us with school supplies! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you."

As one local principal remarked, "In the first week of school, I had children running up to me in the halls so excited to show me their new haircut. I knew they got it at the Back-to-School Festival; they loved their fresh new look."

To get involved and learn more about the B2S Festival visit, http://www.back2schoolfestival.org/.