ANDERSON — The threat of severe weather forced a normally popular back-to-school event indoors. The weather stayed away, but regardless, a few thousand children went home with school supplies they desperately need.
An estimated 10,000 students, mostly elementary-aged kids, and their parents made their way to the Mounds Baptist Church on Sunday for paper, pencils, pens — nearly everything they’ll need for the upcoming school year. The Anderson Back to School Festival has swelled in popularity each year, and increasing equally fast is its necessity, say teachers and event organizers.
Pastor Steve Wilkinson, who helps form the annual festival, said it was actually a blessing in disguise that the event was forced indoors this year. He estimated between $10,000 and $12,000 in school supplies would be handed out to nearly 90 percent of Anderson Community Schools’ elementary students. Because the event stayed indoors, money was saved to buy more school supplies instead of fund the normal games and carnival effects.
“So, there aren’t the games the kids usually get to enjoy, but we were able to spend the money elsewhere,” Wilkinson said. “And the need here is enormous. This event keeps growing. It used to just be a few hundred kids the first few times.
“It’s easy to complain about the way things are, with the economy and everything. But we’ve committed to being a help.”
Students and parents lined up outside the church Sunday, and once inside were directed to the appropriate school. Each school station had specific requirements for students that they could receive. Wilkinson said the increased organization has allowed teachers and students to hit the ground running from the first day of school, rather than waiting a few weeks while students get requisite supplies.
And the teachers and school officials appreciate the difference.
Scott Merkel, principal at Erskine Elementary, said his school particularly benefits from back-to-school events that prepare his students for the year. About 88 percent of the students at his school receive free and reduced lunch, so while the supplies might not seem expensive, every bit helps for the neediest families.