Our Opinion: Backpack benefactors make a difference for Wilson school families

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The need is staggering, but the surge of support is heartwarming.

About 3,000 students will receive backpacks loaded with school supplies today as Darden Middle hosts Wilson County Schools’ annual Operation Backpack distribution.

Organizers collected roughly 3,500 backpacks for the campaign, which provides back-to-school gear to some of Wilson County’s neediest students. The 500 or so left over from today’s giveaway will be divvied among the schools to distribute to those who would otherwise go without.

Enrollment at the 26 public schools hovers around 11,901, according to June figures. The number of backpacks collected will outfit just under a third of our county students.

Nearly half — 47 percent — of all students qualify for free breakfast and lunch, and an additional 6 percent qualify for reduced-price meals.

The first-come, first-served backpack giveaway runs from 9-11 a.m., but Darden’s doors open at 7 o’clock sharp, and some families will likely rise before the sun to wait outside.

Precious few people would spend two-plus hours in line for a freebie they can comfortably afford on their own. For these parents and students, the school supplies are a necessity that’s well worth the wait.

The cost of school supplies can vary widely, but the National Education Association pegs the average expense at $200 for elementary pupils, $330 for middle-schoolers and $375 for high school students. Some low-income families with multiple school-age children would be stretched to the breaking point if it weren’t for Operation Backpack.

Wilson County Schools organizes the annual distribution, but it wouldn’t be possible without herculean help from local businesses.

The Hubert Vester Auto Group raised more than $12,000 to buy 816 backpack and school supply bundles. Chief Operating Officer Chris Vester said his company pitched in for the effort each time it sold a car in August.

Other Operation Backpack partners who contributed at least $5,000 or donated more than 200 backpacks include Chick-fil-A of Wilson, Merck, Wilson Community College and Wilson Medical Center.

In addition to those marquee sponsors, dozens of businesses, community groups, families and individuals pitched in to provide backpacks and cash contributions.

The successful 2017 campaign marks the sixth consecutive year Wilson County Schools has met its back-to-school backpack goal.

“There really are no words to express our gratitude to every individual and business who donated money or backpacks,” school system spokeswoman Amber Lynch said. “Our students are so loved.”

We’re proud of Wilson County institutions for joining forces to make a difference for our young scholars. Each donor deserves a share of the credit.

Our school system faces the challenge of poverty day-in and day-out. While a few thousand backpacks won’t solve everything, they’ll make a tremendous difference in students’ lives.

Every child deserves the tools to succeed. Thanks to Operation Backpack partners, Wilson County students will be ready to learn when the school bells ring.