After preparing for over a week by gathering school supplies and stuffing backpacks, more than 100 volunteers from multiple community organizations came together for the United Way of Williamson County Big Backpack Giveaway.
At this event, school-age children can come pick out a free backpack filled with grade-appropriate school supplies like calculators, writing utensils and more. This year’s event was spread across four different locations: Bethesda United Methodist Church and Westview United Methodist Church in the morning, Johnson Elementary and Liberty Elementary School in the late afternoon.
The Big Backpack Giveaway is a product of United Way’s annual Stuff the Bus campaign, which the organization runs alongside partners such as Publix, UPS, General Motors, GraceWorks Ministries and other churches and community organizations to provide children with free school supplies.
Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at United Way Debby Rainey explained that, for the last few years, the Publix Tools for Back to School program has been a big part of United Way’s Stuff the Bus campaign. The program allows Publix customers to donate a dollar amount to go towards the school supplies that show up in the backpacks at United Way’s event.
However, it takes more than just these organizations to keep the initiative running.
“It’s a big, moving machine,” Rainey said.
“We have a trucking company in Portland, Tennessee that volunteers their truck and driver because General Motors stores our school supplies for us. So, that trucking company goes to General Motors, picks those school supplies up, brings them to the stuffing location. And then we have volunteers that unload that truck with fork lifts and pallet jacks and get all that stuff sorted and separated and counted, and then we start stuffing backpacks, so it goes on all week just for this day.”
Today at Westview United Methodist, about a dozen church members along with volunteers from United Way and GraceWorks helped organize and give out backpacks, asking each child’s favorite color to find the perfect match. Representatives from K-LOVE Radio and Mercy Community Healthcare also set up tables with brochures, pens, highlighters and more.
Even though the Fairview location is one of the smaller events, church member and volunteer Sabrina Street said people have kept rolling in since they opened the church doors.
“We’ve been going since 9 o’clock, and there’s been a steady stream ever since,” Street said, adding that she had seen a good mix of kids from elementary school up through high school.
“We were thinking, oh gosh, not many kindergarteners, and then we’d get a rush of kindergarten kids.”
Last year, the campaign provided backpacks for nearly 2,500 students, and Rainey said she expects similar numbers this year.
Rainey explained that sometimes the purpose of volunteering can get lost in the midst of the work, and it’s critical to reconnect with people as a reminder of why the work is important.
“I’ve been doing this all week. I mean, we’ve been hustling, and yesterday we had to load U-Hauls and trucks,” Rainey said.
“Sometimes you get so involved in the ‘doing’ that you forget why you’re doing it. So, when I got here this morning and there were people waiting in line in the heat to get a backpack, it suddenly reminded me this is why we do it — to serve.”
For more information on how to get involved in the annual Stuff the Bus campaign, visit the United Way of Williamson County website.