Packing 'em in
By JUDY SHERARD
It's a stretch to say fall is in the air, but the first day of school is approaching.
With that comes the need for school supplies and backpacks.
Families started showing up at First Call for Help's Backpacks for Kids at 7 a.m. Thursday, said Troy Hickman, First Call's executive director.
"We were busy right off the start. We started at 7 this morning hoping people would have a chance to get them and get to work."
About 500 students were pre-registered to receive backpacks.
There are no qualifications to receive a backpack. Any student in Ellis County can receive one, but the organization estimates its count based on the number of students receiving free and reduced lunches.
Altogether the organization has about 600 backpacks to give away, so those who didn't pre-register, can call to check on availability.
"We know we're never going to get 600 backpacks donated to us, so we purchase some of them," Hickman said.
Besides the backpacks themselves, on average, there's about $40 of supplies in them, he said.
Callers pre-registering specify the student's school, grade and gender, so the backpacks they receive meet classroom needs and suit the child.
In addition to backpacks, each child gets a bag of hygiene items -- soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush and comb.
First Call buys many of the items, but there's a drop-off campaign to collect donated items at churches and some retail locations. They also receive monetary donations.
"This is our program, but in a sense it's a community program with businesses and others participating," Hickman said.
Volunteers help with the drop-off campaign and giving out the backpacks, but First Call staff took on the job of filling the backpacks.
"It takes an army to get it done. It's great to see kids get everything they need to start school," Hickman said.
Volunteers checked off the students' names at the registration table while others found the appropriate backpack.
Amanda Mackenzie-Campbell picked up backpacks for two of her children, one a kindergarten student and one a first-grader at Lincoln Elementary School.
"I can't afford the school supplies. It's a blessing," she said.
Jessica Molnar has five children to enroll in school, three in high school, one in kindergarten and one in first grade. She's been getting the backpacks for her children as long as they have been providing them.
It "relieves a lot of stress from having to buy everything for all five kids. I'm very grateful," she said.