June 30, 2014. Even though the school year just ended, planning for the second annual Watauga County Back 2 School Festival is in full swing. Last year’s inaugural event was such a success, with more than 500 students in attendance, that organizers are planning for 1,000 local students to attend this year.
The Back 2 School Festival seeks to streamline local school readiness efforts in order to have a greater impact in the community. It was designed to serve any family struggling to afford the high costs of back to school shopping in a fun, dignified and respectful environment. We want all kids to start school feeling confident and prepared for the year ahead.
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 on Saturday, Aug. 9, at the Watauga County High School gym from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. with a special hour from 9-10 a.m. for children with special needs. It will offer free backpacks, school supplies, professional haircuts, shoes from Samaritan’s Feet, book giveaways, fun activities, beneficial information and lunch provided by EarthFare 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 unless there is enough to give every child.
Parents are asked to pre-register their children so that organizers will know how many to expect and can have the correct shoe sizes in hand. To register, go to www.Back2SchoolFestival.org 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,” stated Amber Bateman, Quiet Givers president. “We need community support to meet all of the needs.”
The festival is looking for individuals, businesses, clubs, churches, civic groups and nonprofits to get involved. Anyone can get involved now by participating in the Back 2 School Festival 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 your donations, the Festival will be given gift certificates to be handed out to children in need of clothing.
For any individuals wanting to donate school supplies, Pack-the-Bus will be back in the Yadkin Bank parking lot starting July 4 weekend through the first weekend in August.
In addition to individual donations, festival organizers are in need of volunteers to help set up at 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 like scientific calculators, graph paper, mechanical pencils and weekly planners.
With 29 percent of Watauga County living in poverty, last year’s event made a big difference in the lives of Watauga children. With the average school supplies lists containing more than 31 items and totaling more than $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.
School social workers noticed a steep decline in need during the first week of school, noting that the only children served were the ones who just moved here and were unaware of the festival. 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.”