BOONE — With a little more than a week left until the seventh annual Back 2 School Festival, Kendra Sink — president of the Best 2 School Festival board and festival director — is still seeking donations and volunteers for the day of the event.
The Back 2 School Festival allows families a time to come to Watauga High School and gather supplies a student would need for the incoming school year — which starts for Watauga County Schools on Aug. 19. The event this year is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Aug. 10.
Families are asked to register with the school the student will be attending as they come into the festival. They will then be able to pick out a backpack and each item the student will need for the year. Students are also able to enter the year with an additional pair of shoes, as families are able to choose from shoes provided at the festival. Other items such as information on local organizations, free haircuts, fun activities and pizza are also offered at the event.
Sink said festival organizers receive supply lists from each Watauga school and classroom to ensure that students will have what they need. The supplies committee calculates how many students attended the previous year and the grade and school they attended. Committee members use these numbers to estimate how many items — like glue sticks or notebooks — that they think they will need for the current year’s festival.
Sink approached the Watauga County Board of Commissioners on July 23 stating the event still needed to raise about $10,000 to $15,000. Since then, she said the Back 2 School Festival — which is now its own nonprofit — has received donations. However, organizers still hope to raise about $7,000 in the remaining days to be able to provide as many services as it did the previous year.
To donate to the cause, visit www.back2schoolfestival.org/donate.
The 2018 event brought in about 1,000 students to gather supplies for the school year. Another 200 or so students were served through the nonprofit’s stock room that’s provided in a donated space through a local church. Sink said school social workers are able to access the supply room throughout the year and gather supplies for students who need them.
This is Sink’s fifth year of helping with the festival. She became involved because she has a passion for school children, saying she doesn’t want “any student to go to school without the things that they need.”
Last year Sink said she arrived at the high school three hours before the event to help set up, and people were already lined up at the door.
“I was shocked,” Sink said. “I literally was crying as I drove in because the entire front sidewalk of the school was full of people waiting.”
Organizers have had multiple families express gratitude over the years for the event, Sink said. Recently Sink spoke with a person who had said that one year they had attended the festival, they had been worried about purchasing new shoes for their children. Sink said the person told her that it was a “blessing” that the festival had shoes to provide to students.
According to Sink, 34.5 percent of the 4,700 students who are enrolled in Watauga County Schools qualify for free and reduced lunch. According to festival organizers, school readiness shopping can cost more than $160 per child. This is not including shoes and clothes.
“If you struggle to feed your kids breakfast, lunch and dinner, you don’t have extra money for school supplies or shoes,” Sink said.
It takes the work of many businesses, civic organizations, churches and volunteers to present an event like Back 2 School Fest, Sink said. More than 30 local groups are sponsors for the event.
Mast General Store is the festival’s gold sponsor. The following groups are silver sponsors: Chetola Resort, 4 Forty Four, North Carolina Community Foundation, Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Purple Crow, George T. Baker Foundation and the Boone Service League. Grand sponsors are Hunter’s Helping Kids (High Country Chapter), Larry Turnbow, the Boone Optimist Club, Walmart, Rumple Church, Blowing Rock Rotary, Subway, Proffit’s Grove Baptist Church Youth Group, First National Bank and the Holmes Convocation Center.
General event sponsors are Blue Ridge Electric, Destination by Design, New River Building Supply, OP Smiles, Carolina West Wireless, Meat Camp Baptist Church, T & J Produce, New River Light and Power, First Baptist Church of Boone, St. Mary’s of the Hills, Douglas McGuire Construction, Watauga Retired School Personnel, Dan’l Boone Inn and the Appalachian State University Bookstore.
It takes about 200 volunteers the day of the festival to ensure the process runs smoothly for families. Volunteers can help in ways such as helping students receive supplies or sometimes may help families with multiple children that need assistance in gathering materials.
Sink said those who want to volunteer can visit www.back2schoolfestival.org/volunteer.