Kids were bouncing off the walls with the excitement of seeing friends, and the gymnasium at the former Brown Elementary School in Eastpoint was busting at the seams Friday, with supplies and clothing from the start of the school district’s Back to School Bash.
Families were given tickets that enabled their children to receive backpacks, get their hair cut, plus receive athletic physicals and immunizations, all in one place, to prepare for going back to class this Monday.
Joe Taylor, director of Franklin’s Promise Coalition, that partnered with Superintendent Traci Moses, to host the overwhelmingly successful event, was pleased with a turnout of about 230 registrants.
“The happy faces were worth every bit of energy we put into it. People from all over the county came together to make it wonderful,” he said of the huge volunteer effort , organized by Allison Chipman, the district’s human resources specialist.
“This year's back-to-school theme is ‘Team Franklin’ and this was a great display of that concept, in support of our students,” Chipman said. “It was great to come together as a community and connect so many families with resources. This event wouldn't have been possible without many sweat hours put in to pull this off.”
This event was open to every school-aged child in the county, not limited to Franklin County School students. Donations largely came from the excess of fire victim relief goods, still being stored by local churches and held in a tractor trailer at the Eastpoint firehouse and a collection site at the Carrabelle municipal complex.
Kids wasted no time filling up trash bags and cardboard boxes, and siblings cooperated to help parents pick out hygiene products and boots, some of which were recently donated by Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear & Apparel, of Tallahassee.
“We want this stuff to be taken,” said art teacher Lydia Countryman, pleased at the turnout by her colleagues.
“During the last weeks of summer, teachers traditionally get selfish with their time, but clearly not this year,” she said.
Moses echoed the feeling. “Education is a service career and that is evident with some of our staff, plus basketball players and cheerleaders here on their own time,” she said.
Moses said she is confident that even without the disaster, the start-of-school event could stand on its own, annually, and “we can make it even better.”
The 77 kids, identified by the county emergency management office as directly impacted by the June 24 Lime Rock Roads fire that ravaged Wilderness and Ridge roads, each picked up special care packages of new items, including new shoes and backpacks, put together by volunteers.
“Since this is the first time doing something as big as this, partly in response to the Eastpoint fire, we wanted to get families focused on a new year and the kids back into a stable routine,” said Sue Summer, director of special programs.
“I didn’t know it was going on,” said Arianna Watson from Eastpoint, who is entering fourth grade. “It’s nice. I never shopped like this before.”
Apalachicola’s Chloe Montgomery, also a fourth grader, said she is looking forward to the start of school. “I want my friends to come to school and make new friends,” she said.
Incoming first-grader, Obie Pelt, of Eastpoint was there with older sister Alina. He said he likes learning about reptiles, and was looking forward to a bounce house set up on the lawn at the campus.
“It’s our pleasure to be a part of this event. Our little town has suffered so much loss this year,” said Brittany Turner of Southern Belle’s Hair Salon, which along with Coastal Cutz, both in Eastpoint, volunteered to cut hair. In all they did 38 haircuts.
The county health department handled 17 health or sports physicals, plus five immunizations. Plus over 250 hamburgers and hot dogs were served.
“It went very well,” said volunteer Liz Sisung. “You wouldn’t expect any less. This is what Franklin County does.” She said the Philaco Woman’s Club shopped and collected enough to adopt a family of five and a family of three.
“Hopefully, after losing everything they will have something,” she said.
The core of the Franklin’s Promise Coalition’s operations are moving this fall to the campus of the former Brown Elementary, part of an expanding partnership with the schools through its Conservation Corps program, which offers a education outreach for students.
“Long-term, there is something cool, about being in the middle of the county. It’s time,” Taylor said. “Eastpoint is full of hard-working problem solvers.”
Taylor estimates that fire relief efforts will extend through the holidays until permanent lodging is found for all those affected. “We are committed,” he said. “If you want to impact a community, start with the children.”
The weather held for other Back to School bashes last week as well, which included one on July 28, at the Holy Family Senior Center, hosted by Jacqueline Miller of Friendship Baptist Church and Valentina Webb of Tabernacle of Faith.
This event celebrated its second year passing out donated supplies, and ministering to the community. “We served more in the first year, but had close to 80 pre-k to high school students this year,” Miller said.
She described the event as “a vision. That God gave to me. I love children, so we wanted to do something to get parents out, and kids busy.
“There was not a bash taking place in this community, and people were very moved,” Miller said.
Cooperation with the sheriff’s department, and other local church groups, made it possible, to pass out shoe vouchers and backpacks, and hold an ice cream social. Bring-Me-A-Book Franklin was also in attendance, Hillside Coalition of Laborers for Apalachicola (H-COLA) bought drinks and the city of Apalachicola donated the grounds.
One need unfilled for the coming year is an advisor role with Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT). Contact Maria Williams at 697-4121 or visit the health department.