By JB Clark
TUPELO – The Mall at Barnes Crossing was filled Saturday with the families of more than 2,000 Northeast Mississippi students getting a free backpack and preparing for the upcoming school year.
In its third year, the United Way Back to School Resource Fair expanded from one event to six events around the region. About 2,200 backpacks were given away at the Tupelo mall to Lee County and Chickasaw County kindergarten through sixth-grade students while children in Itawamba County went to the Itawamba Attendance Center for their backpacks.
Ace Bocarando walked excitedly around the mall with his brand new blue backpack.
“I got blue because I love blue, it’s my favorite color,” he said as he opened it to reveal the contents. He pulled out markers and notebook paper, pencils, glue sticks and a few colorful folders that he said, “are for coloring on.”
Ace is going into kindergarten at Saltillo Elementary School this year.
Michelle Richardson, communications director for United Way of Northeast Mississippi, said people were excited about the backpacks.
“We’ve had people this morning that were here as early as 2 a.m. in the parking lot to make sure they could get a backpack,” she said. “There really is such a need for this.”
Along with backpacks, students and parents were able to find out about community organizations that are involved in the schools like Girl Scouts, the Boys & Girls Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Teachers and volunteers with Excel by 5 were on hand with fun activities that help show parents and students what skills are needed to be prepared for kindergarten.
Next Saturday, the fair will be held for Union County at New Albany Elementary School, for Pontotoc County at West Heights Baptist Church, for Prentiss County at Baptist Booneville and for Tishomingo County at Tishomingo County High School. Each event is from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m.