2016 Back to School Festival Tremendous Community Effort
More than 800 Watauga County Students started school feeling excited, confident and prepared for the new school year at the 4th Annual Back to School Festival on Saturday, August 13. The Festival, a non-profit community event, held at Watauga High School, helps bring relief to families struggling to meet the costs associated with going back to school. The average cost per child for back to school supplies is $150, and that doesn’t include clothes, shoes, or haircuts.
Families were greeted by Watauga County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Scott Elliot as they entered the festival. “This year’s Back to School Festival was another tremendous success. The outpouring of generosity from all corners of the community resulted in hundreds of children and families able to start the school year fully prepared to learn and succeed this year. It really speaks highly of the quality of our community that so many volunteers and businesses come together to support our students. I cannot thank them enough.”, said Dr. Elliot. Watauga High School has hosted the event for the past three years and Principal Marshall Gasperson and WHS staff worked closely with Festival organizers to ensure that everything proceed smoothly throughout the day. A number of teachers and administrators from the throughout the school system volunteered for the Festival.
Students then chose from great looking backpacks and proceeded to the Supply Room to get pencils, paper, notebooks, and more items on their teacher’s supply lists. Translators assisted Hispanic families as they selected their supplies. Booths were set up in the Main Gym with Goodwill giving gift cards for student clothing, OP Smiles distributed toothpaste and toothbrushes and several other booths held activities and treats for children.
The Winkler Organization, the Naming Sponsor for the event, provided a very generous grant that made it possible to provide 675 pairs of shoes to excited children. Watauga County school social workers reported that shoes are the second biggest need families face in going back to school. The Mast General Store, a presenting sponsor, provided over $10,000 worth of high quality socks to students, as well as financial and staff support to the Festival.
The Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge provided free haircuts and distributed gift bags of shampoo, combs and brushes. Six of the students getting haircuts donated their hair to Wigs for Kids, a non-profit group that provides wigs to children battling cancer. Seven hundred delicious free lunches were provided by Green Street Catering. Mellow Mushroom provided pizza to the 180 volunteers, and Panera Bread brought bagels, pastries and coffee to get the volunteers going!
The Festival received generous support from many businesses and civic organizations in our community. Among these were LaTortilleria, ECR Software, Boone Optimist Club, Boone Service League, Holy Cross Missions Group, New River Building Supply, OP Smiles, Retired Teacher Association, Boone Advent Christian Church, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Cooperative, and Life Store Bank. Many churches, civic organizations, and individuals – too numerous to list here - helped “Pack the Bus” and donated funds and school supplies.
Funds were raised from several “Spirit Nights” at local restaurants including Pepper’s Restaurant, Chipotle, Comeback Shack, Five Guys Burgers, and Chick-fil-A, and McKethan Brothers BBQ. Information tables at Watauga County Farmers Market raised funds and awareness.
The work of the Back to School Festival continues into the school year. School social workers have access to backpacks and school supplies for students who were unable to come to the festival or who recently moved into Watauga County and are in need.
Finally, the Festival would not have been so successful without the hard work of over 180 volunteers who care so much about the children in our community!