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Third-grade East Lincoln Elementary teacher Megan Ferrell and her daughter Isabell stop to talk to Walmart Manager Mark Kelly during the store’s teacher appreciation event last Saturday.

Local teachers were able to do more than just shop at Walmart last Saturday afternoon. On July 13, the store held an appreciation event in their honor, pulling out all the stops with cake, ice cream and a photo booth.

The entrance was crowded 30 minutes before the start of the event, with a large group of teachers waiting to get in on the festivities. The first 300 received swag bags full of goodies from school-supply companies such as Crayola, 3M, Fiskars and Bic.

Megan Ferrell, a third-grade math and science teacher at East Lincoln Elementary, said she was encouraged and uplifted by Walmart’s efforts.

“I was super excited when I found out about this event and I am really feeling appreciated by the community,” she said. “I am so ready to get back to work.”

Ferrell was not the only teacher there eager for fall. Karin Webb, a nine-year teacher at Lynchburg Elementary, added her own enthusiasm.

“I am very excited about the new school year and have already started working on getting supplies for my classroom,” she said. “I feel really honored to be appreciated like this.”

Non-teaching members of school staff were welcomed to the event as well. Bel-Aire Elementary cafeteria worker Leigh Wilhoit said, “I am glad and excited to get back to work. I do it because I love the kids. They keep me going.”  Wilhoit has worked for the school for more than five years.

Store manager Mark Kelly, who has helmed the Tullahoma store since 1999, was delighted to show teachers appreciation in a new way this year. This is the first time his store has hosted an event for teachers, and Kelly was enthusiastic about being more hands-on when it came to making a difference in his community.

“Usually, we give $50 gift cards to each school’s principal so that they can give it to the teacher or class that needs the money the most. But this year, in addition to the gift cards, corporate created this event to put more emphasis on the teachers and recognize their hard work,” Kelly said.  “I like that I am able to meet all of them as they come into the store today and thank them for what they do.”

There’s more at stake than gift cards and cake, though. Kelly is equally passionate about telling teachers how to apply for critical funding.

“My hope is that this event will encourage the schools’ faculty to go online and apply for the local community grants that we give out, so we can get our schools more money,” he said. “A school’s faculty member can go online and apply for the grant, and then I can go over my budget here and distribute the money evenly amongst the applicants.”

“So far, I have been able to reward grant money to Motlow State Community College and Tullahoma High School,” Kelly said.  “I was able to get East Lincoln Elementary to sign up just from today’s event. I am certainly hoping for many more.”

According to Walmart’s website, local community grants can range from $250 to a maximum of $5,000.

For more information, including guidelines and an eligibility checklist, visit www.walmart.com.