By Michael Pineda
A citywide effort drawing hundreds of volunteers has successfully outfitted several thousand students for the first day of school.
An estimated 2,500 backpacks filled with pencils, crayons, folders and more were handed out during the annual School Supply Drive at Yukon High School Saturday morning. It was the first year the event has taken place at the high school and organizers made good use of the extra space.
“It was crazy,” Good Fight Church Pastor Josh Laughter said. “When we first started, the line went out past the parking lot and back down the side. We had a second line going into the other parking lot. So, I was kind of like, ‘Oh, no. Problems have been encountered.’”
There was a bounce house, games, food and other activities outside the high school to greet attendees. Inside, the line led past organizations that set up tables to the auxiliary gym, where piles of backpacks were set up for four different age groups. After receiving the backpack, there were also haircuts available.
“All things considered, I think we have moved in the right direction,” Laughter said. “It’s a little bit different this year being at Yukon High School, where in the past we have been at our church. There was more flexibility because we can do things at different times. The school has been so gracious with us. Really, we have just been so blessed by the principals here and the assistant principals. They have been so good to us.
“Today has been a great success. All the churches have come together and the amount of support we have from the community has been incredible. I think we have had 50 organizations here today.”
At one point in the morning, Connections Pastor Kyle Woodall went into the gym to see how many backpacks were left, with long lines waiting to receive their supplies.
“This has been awesome,” Woodall said. “There have been so many people come out. They are having a good time outside while they wait to be in line. There is food, there’s games, there’s water. There are inflatables and, on the inside, we have some animals for people to hold and play with and some other games inside. And a large part of our community organizations that serve our community are here to help people in need.”
Grace Baughman was among the youngest volunteers. The 11-year-old kept busy helping her mother with backpacks to be handed out.
“I bring the school supplies to the table, and they get to choose the bag they want,” she said.
“My favorite part is helping people with needs of school supplies and when they need help, I help them.”
Laughter said there were 2,200 who registered to get a backpack. There were an additional 300 backpacks to be handed out for those who walked up and those had been handed out by 10 a.m. Laughter also said there were 300 volunteers, along with resource partners. Of those volunteers, 220 had RSVPed with others walking up to help.
He attributed the high demand for the backpacks to current economic conditions, noting it was the sounding cry for the drive this year.
“We just came out of COVID and now gas prices are $4 a gallon, at least when we started,” Laughter said. “Thank goodness they have gone down. When we started it was $4 or $5 you know and it’s a challenge for families to put 20 gallons in their tank week after week and still be able to meet the need of school supplies.
“So that was kind of the sounding cry for us this year. We have had some major pandemics and now an economic crisis so let’s be intentional about meeting the need.”
Woodall also said having the event at the high school proved beneficial for both organizers, volunteers and attendees. There was more that could be done at the high school, making it more of a fun event and less crowded.
“Obviously, there are some things we can work on for next year,” Woodall said. “But as far as an event this size, it is doing wonderful.”
Laughter agreed there are things that can be worked on for next year, particularly in terms of preparation. Part of the reason for needed adjustment comes with the growth in the drive.
“I think the biggest thing we need is to build a committee around this thing,” Laughter said. “It has kind of outgrown us, if that makes sense. The biggest need is people throughout the summer who say, ‘I’m passionate and I’m willing to put in the work.’ We’ve had a couple of ladies who have put in 100 hours each, you know from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. here at the school just stuffing backpacks. It’s been crazy. I think I had five volunteers leave here at midnight last night just to be here at six in the morning.
“So, the need is huge, the amount of work to put something on of this caliber is just incredible and the more help we can have the better. We have so much support the day of the event but really, during the mid-summer, we can get more and more people involved feeding the need at this level.”