By JB Clark
TUPELO – Thousands of students and parents filled The Mall at Barnes Crossing as they picked up free school supplies and learned about many back-to-school and family resources in the hours before stores opened Saturday.
Free backpacks stuffed with school supplies were given to 1,500 students also as a part of the United Way’s Back 2 School Resource Fair.
Jaden Boyd, 8, of Tupelo, got a brand-new orange backpack Saturday morning. Orange isn’t his favorite color but he picked it because it’s close to red, which is his favorite color.
“I’ve got paper, glue sticks, folders, pencils, crayons and markers,” said the Pierce Street student as he went through his backpack. “I’m excited to go back to school but I wish summer could be a little longer.”
United Way’s Robin Matkin said families were at the mall around 7:30 a.m. to make sure they were able to get a backpack in time.
“The turnout has been good,” Matkin said. “People are getting through fast and no one stood in line too long.”
In addition to free school supplies, many family- and student-oriented organizations like 4H, HealthWorks!, the Birthing Project, Healthy Tupelo Task Force, Catch Kids and the Boys & Girls Club met with students and families and handed out information.
Excel by Five had early childhood education teachers and care providers on hand to work with young children on the skills they need to be ready for school.
“The teachers have set up activities so the kids can work on the skills they need for kindergarten,” said Beverly Williams, Lee County’s Excel by Five certification manager. “We’re getting information out to parents about the things they can do at home to get their kids ready to show up for the first day of kindergarten.”
Students under age 5 also were able to get free books from Excel by Five to take home and practice reading and parents were given checklists to prepare their children for kindergarten.
Better Schools Better Jobs Mississippi representatives collected signatures on their petition to have the Mississippi Adequate Education Program fully funded this year.
The Families First Resource Center put on a skit, Giraffes Can’t Dance, to teach children about the dangers of bullying.
Representatives from the Walmart Vision Center were on hand to test distance and reading vision and let students know if they should be tested for glasses before beginning the school year.
In addition to the 1,500 backpacks given out in Tupelo, 350 were given out at the Itawamba Attendance Center in Fulton.
Five more Back 2 School Resource Fairs will be put on by the United Way of Northeast Mississippi in upcoming weeks:
Tishomingo County: Saturday, July 26, 9 a.m. –11 a.m. – Families First Resource Center at Tishomingo County High School
Chickasaw County: Saturday, July 26, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. – First Methodist Life Center in Houston
Pontotoc County: Saturday, July 26, 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. – West Heights Baptist Church in Pontotoc
Prentiss County: Saturday, Aug. 2, 9 a.m. – noon – Baptist Memorial Hospital Booneville
Union County: Saturday, Aug. 16, 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – Baptist Memorial Hospital New Albany