Families line up for free backpacks: Eighth year for Operation Backpack

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The first family showed up before 4 a.m., eager to secure a place in line for Wilson County Schools’ eighth annual Operation Backpack giveaway held Saturday morning at Fike High School. By 6 a.m., around 70 people were in line.

Not long after the doors opened at 9 a.m., the 800-seat auditorium was filled with families seeking backpacks. Others formed a line that wandered out the school doors and down to the far side of the parking lot against the ball fields.

When the event ended at 11 a.m., nearly 2,000 adults and children had filed through the lines in the school gymnasium, and 1,600 backpacks had been distributed. Students from any of Wilson’s 26 public schools were eligible for a backpack with school supplies inside. Wilson community members donated more than 3,000 backpacks.

“This event means a whole lot to me because my daughter is a single parent, and it will help her a lot to receive the backpacks with the supplies in it,” said Cassandra Hines, a grandmother to three children, ages 10, 8 and 3. “We attended last year, and it was just as nice last year as it is this year.”

The Wilson Youth Council was one of several groups volunteering at the backpack distribution. The council has provided volunteers for every Operation Backpack held.

“We have 20 volunteers out here today for our first service project of the year,” said Theresa Mathis, adviser for the Wilson Youth Council. “This is an event I look forward to every year. Seeing the joy on the kids’ faces and sharing in the gratefulness of the families is the perfect way to start the new school year.”

Other volunteers included representatives from Merck & Co., the Beddingfield High School Junior ROTC, school board members, central office and school staff and cheerleaders from all three high schools.

Diamond Holden, a junior at Wilson Early College Academy and a member of the Wilson Youth Council, arrived at Fike at 7 a.m. to volunteer at the backpack giveaway.

“It makes me feel good to volunteer,” Holden said. “All the kids are happy to get a bookbag, and they’re smiling and are excited. It’s just a good experience. And I couldn’t believe they had that many backpacks.”

For students and their families who were not able to attend the giveaway on Saturday, there are still backpacks available.

“Leftover backpacks will be divided up and sent to the schools, and then counselors and principals identify students who need them,” said Amber Lynch, director of public relations for Wilson County Schools. “So if you couldn’t make it out today, there should be some at the schools.”