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School Updates

STAFF WRITER

kelly lapczynski

 More than 200 Tullahoma students received backpacks filled with school supplies plus gym shoes for the new  term thanks to the Tullahoma Housing Authority (THA), area churches and other donors.

“I normally write a letter to the editor (to thank everyone),” said Housing Authority resident services coordinator Mary Phillips, “but this year it was just so large and everyone was so generous and so nice that I just didn’t feel like a simple ‘thank you’ was enough.  We’ve done this for 20 years and it’s just gotten a lot larger.”

On July 20, First Baptist Church served as the host site for THA’s annual school supply giveaway, a program that THA for years simply called the “Back to School Bash.”

Tullahoma students and parents line up outside First Baptist Church to receive free backpacks full of school supplies and a pair of new shoes for the 2014 school year courtesy of the Tullahoma Housing Authority and area churches. – Photo Provided

In recent years, however, that program merged with another THA program called “Getting Started on the Right Foot,” which provides school children with a new pair of gym shoes.  Merged, the program is now called “Better Together.”

During the Better Together event, children who arrived to receive their goodies also were served treats from Grace Baptist Church.

“There were hamburgers and hot dogs, snow cones, popcorn and cotton candy,” said Phillips.  And on the First Baptist Church grounds, yard games and “bouncy houses” kept kids entertained.

“It was a really large event for the children,” said Phillips.  “We gave out 208 backpacks and 211 pairs of shoes.”

Operating out of the THA resident services budget, Phillips and volunteers purchased and packed backpacks full of the school supplies as listed by each school for every grade level.  But with $80 to $100 of supplies in each backpack, it wasn’t THA funds alone that made the massive giveaway possible.

“Grace Baptist Church donated money and school supplies and backpacks,” said Phillips, “and First Baptist Church bought all the notebooks and even donated money back into my budget after the event..”

“First Baptist Church was the host site,” said volunteer Kelley Cortez, “and they were absolutely wonderful.  Their members helped us distribute backpacks and they signed people in.  They were amazing.”

“They were very generous,” added Phillips.  “They did so much more than they had to do.  A letter to the editor just wasn’t enough to thank them.”

Phillips also made a point to thank Cortez and her family for their help in packing and distributing the backpacks.

“Kelley and her mother and her dad (Dannie and Patricia Swann) were very gracious to work with me on this.  If I didn’t have them, nobody would have gotten backpacks.  It would have been just me.”

The children who received  shoes and backpacks were registered in advance of the giveaway so that the organization would have the proper set of supplies and correct shoe sizes for each child.

“I do this every year, so I clip coupons and I clearance shop all year long,” said Phillips.  “But I send letters out asking for donations in April and children get the signup sheets with the June (THA) newsletter.  Carrie Bennett at Grace Baptist Church also signs them up during Vacation Bible School.”

Once the registration is complete, shoe sizes are sent to Kings Cross Church, where congregation members volunteer to help buy shoes.  “Employees of Jacobs Technology donated money to purchase shoes, also.  That helped us tremendously,” said Phillips.  “We have a lot of people helping in Tullahoma, contributing in some way.”

Though most children came from low-income families, Phillips said there was no income limit placed on student registration.  However, that may change in future years.

“We’re going to try to set up some kind of income guideline next year because we had to turn several away.”

To that end, THA, area churches, businesses and other assistance agencies like Good Samaritan and Attic Outlet have formed a network agency at First Christian Church to increase communication between charitable organizations, cut down on overlaps, and ensure that “more children who need it can get help.”

In addition to congregation members at First Baptist, Grace Baptist and King’s Cross Churches and employees of Jacob’s Tech, donations of money and supplies also came from Wesley Heights United Methodist Women’s Group, First United Methodist Church, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Good Samaritan and Attic Outlet.