JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — The nonprofit Appalachian Outreach in Jefferson City handed out hundreds of backpacks and food bags to families during their annual "Back to School Bash" on Saturday.
The staff decided to adjust the usual "carnival style" event and make a drive-through option. Families in need were able to drive up and get a stuffed backpack for each child in their family.
The executive director of Appalachian Outreach, Jean-Ann Washam, said the ministry has offered the "Back to School Bash" for over 15 years.
"Even though I can't see the kids open it today, I know they are going to be excited when they unzip that and see the crayons and see the colored pencils and just the special touch with all those school supplies," Washam said.
The annual Appalachian Outreach "Back to School Bash" is a time for the Jefferson County nonprofit to give backpacks and school supplies to students in need.
"So we're standing in the gap as we have for years and we're basically saying 'what can we do to help,'" Washam said.
Even though the coronavirus pandemic canceled events all across the U.S., the nonprofit knew they still needed to offer the event. They just needed to adjust the event to make it safer.
"We knew there was still a need, so there was that balancing between what we needed to do for safety reasons, but also what we needed to do for the children," Washam said.
Members of the community, along with various church members, donated each backpack along with the supplies inside. Washam said they were ready for 600 students from Kindergarten to 12th grade to pick up the packs.
Volunteers handed off school essentials and food bags to every family who pulled up from Jefferson, Cocke and Grainger Counties.
"I've been there before," said volunteer Dickson Prefeghanodded. "So, I know what it means when you give somebody a penny because some people don't really have it."
For a community with a large number of students on free and reduced lunch returning to the classroom in a little over a week, every little bit helps.
"Every year this is a blessing to know that they are going back to school with a backpack and supplies that they need, and it just warms my heart every year," volunteer and Mt. Horeb Elementary School teacher Lisa Privette said.
Even during a pandemic, the community is finding ways to show up for its students.
"Just because there's a virus doesn't mean there aren't still people that are in need," volunteer Marti Rogers said. "So I'm glad we're still doing it so they can get the help they need."
Appalachian Outreach will continue giving supplies to teachers and students throughout the year. People who would like to donate or volunteer can call the nonprofit at 865-475-5611 or visit aoministry.org to do so virtually.