Backpack, supplies giveaway draws 2,500 Walker County residents

Backpack, supplies giveaway draws 2,500 Walker County residents
The big backpack giveaway at the Jasper Civic Center attracted about 2,500 families, including Jasper resident Sandie Farris and her daughters, McKinley and Ivie. Farris was among parents who said the event came in the nick of time: Many Walker County schools start their new year in mid-August. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter

Many Walker County parents are starting off the school year with a little less pressure, thanks to a recent backpack giveaway at the Jasper Civic Center. Residents of Parrish and surrounding communities began lining up outside the civic center around 7:30 a.m. for the Aug. 3 event.

About 2,500 people attended the event, which is sponsored by several community service groups.

Jasper resident Sandie Farris, attending with her daughters, McKinley Ferguson, 16, and Ivie Farris, 5, said the giveaway was a huge help to her family.

“This is the first time I’ve come,” Farris said. “It’s been a really exciting day. I brought my girls here to get supplies, and it’s really been a blessing for all these people to come out and donate their time and everything for us, to get the kids our school supplies.”

Jasper resident Candace Hammond agreed the event came just in time to help families. She arrived early with her son, Nicholas, and her twin niece and nephew, Marian and Marquel Nash. Hammond’s 4-year-old son, Nicholas, will begin speech classes at Oakman Elementary School in September.

“This is a jumpstart, definitely, on at least a few things you need,” Hammond said. “They always give you the essentials and a little more. They’re very friendly. Any event that Capstone is involved with, they do a good job. They do it big for Walker County.”

Several Walker County-based groups were there to offer help. Members of the Gorgas Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) partnered with employees at Capstone Rural Health Center in Parrish to provide free backpacks filled with school supplies. The book bags were donated by Gorgas APSO, and Capstone Rural Health Center supplied pens, pencils, crayons, notebooks, loose-leaf paper and other supplies. Many charitable groups and businesses in Jasper also donated school supplies.

Gorgas APSO members James Brown, Dion Oliver and Andrew Lawhorn handed out 750 clear plastic backpacks, stuffed with most items that students need to start the school year. Oliver, 2018 Gorgas APSO president, said the event was for a good cause. The goal, Oliver said, was to assist underprivileged students in Parrish and surrounding areas, whose families have difficulty in supplying their children’s needs for the new school year. He said that Gorgas APSO members want to help the community wherever they can.

“We’ve been doing this for a while,” said Oliver, Gorgas assistant plant control operator. “We team up with Capstone in Parrish. It’s so joyful to see the looks on the kids’ faces when they get their new backpack.

“It takes some of the financial strain off the parents,” he said. “It’s just a great thing to do.”

Several little girls enjoyed getting their picture taken with Capstone employee Adrian Aaron, costumed as Elsa from “Frozen.” Many parents took time out to photograph their children with the Bumblebee character from “Transformers: The Last Knight.” Several youngsters stopped to talk with Mary Lou Kevorkian, a longtime volunteer of the Alabama Wildlife Center, who sported a barn owl on her right arm.

Jasper High School student McKinley Ferguson, 16, said that she enjoyed herself at the event.

Marcy Brown, chairman of the board of directors for Capstone Rural Health Center, was pleased with the turnout.

“We want to be the star for someone who needs it – this is our fifth-annual year of having the backpack giveaway,” said Brown, who has been on the board more than 10 years. “The first year we gave away 100 backpacks. This year, Gorgas APSO contributed 750 backpacks. Without us, many of the families here today would not be able to send their children to school with the needed supplies.

“It’s a reward within itself when you see a needy family and you make a smile on their face when you give a backpack,” she said.

Plant Gorgas Mechanic-Welder James Brown said that Gorgas APSO volunteers saw a tremendous response to the need for school supplies, as families lined up halfway around the block to enter the civic center.

“I believe this year’s event was the best so far,” Brown said. “We gave out all 750 backpacks and could have given close to 800. The partnership with the Capstone Clinic has been truly rewarding for the community and Gorgas APSO.”

Alabama Power Community Initiatives Program Manager Tan Grayson said that APSO volunteers are committed to strengthening their communities, especially when it comes to helping children.

“APSO members are very passionate about posterity and making sure children have the tools they need for school,” Grayson said. “One organization can’t touch every child, but with partners like Capstone, we can assist more children.”

Several other organizations took part in information sharing, including the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama and Positive Maturity Inc.

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