Highland church sending kids home with backpacks, supplies

HIGHLAND, AR (KAIT) – Summer break is almost over, and many kids will go back to school with new clothes in their closets and new supplies in their backpacks.

Some families, however, are unable to afford all that, so one church stepped up the past few years to try and erase that concern for them.

Members of the Highland Assembly of God set a goal four years ago. They wanted to make sure every child had all the supplies they needed for the first day of school. That's how an event called the Backpack Extravaganza was born and continues to grow.

"Saturday, we have our fourth annual back-to-school extravaganza, which started in 2009 with 500 backpacks," Barbara Milton said. "It has grown to over 1,000 this year."

Milton, who serves as the church's outreach coordinator, says the church will give away 1,000 fully-stuffed backpacks and much more.

"We have also a thousand pairs of shoes we're going to give away," Milton said. "We have free clothing. We also have dental exams, wellness exams, eye exams, haircuts…and then we also give away free food and drinks."

Tana Wright, the church secretary, says the church makes sure to fill the backpacks with items that kids actually need.

"What we do is we get a school supply list from all the schools, and we combine that into one master list," Wright said. "So you're going to find pencil boxes, pencils, pens, crayons, glue – everything that you would need for school."

"Literally when a child comes here and they go to school, they'll have new clothes, new haircut, wellness check, dental check, backpack, supplies – they're set," Pastor Chris Clem said.

Clem says the event takes about a year to organize and requires partnerships with local businesses and other churches.

"It truly is a community-funded event," he said. "The budget's around $70,000, and all that money comes from here."

Despite all the work, he says it's worth it to see the kids smile and his church members give back.

"It's my favorite day of the year," Clem said. "I mean, I enjoy it more than Christmas so it's pretty awesome – and I love Christmas."

The Backpack Extravaganza will be held at the church, located at 33 Meadowbrook Drive in Highland, and will last from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, August 10.

Organizers ask people to arrive early because they're expecting somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 people to attend this year. Milton, however, says parents have no reason to worry if the church runs out of supplies.

"We do have kids that don't get backpacks," she said, "so what we do at the end of the event is we take names and numbers and we provide those kids with backpacks."

Church members say they are willing to help a few surrounding communities set up similar events next year. To learn more information, visit this link or call the church office at 870-856-3886.

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