LUMBERTON — With Hurricane Matthew still on their minds 10 months after it hit, parents and guardians enjoyed a bit of relief Thursday at the annual Back to School Celebration for the Public Schools of Robeson County, during which they got a break from buying supplies for the start of the new year.
“It’s a great event to have because a lot of families can’t afford to buy school supplies after Matthew,” said Camisha Huggins, a Lumberton resident who came with her nieces and cousins.
The celebration took place at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center on U.S. 74, and free supplies were handed out to thousands of students during a 12-hour period. Officials expected as many as 20,000 of the system’s 24,000 students might benefit.
A long line formed outside the center, and when parents and children got inside, they found their individual school’s station, where they were given a blue mesh backpack stuffed with notebook paper, activity books, crayons, markers, note cards, sticky pads, coloring pencils and books that had been donated by various sponsors. Some schools also gave out protective glasses that could be used to view the upcoming solar eclipse on Aug. 21, which is a week before the school year begins on Aug. 28.
Parents were not left out, receiving a bag, notebooks, calendar and an umbrella. A variety of snacks were offered, including candy and potato chips but also healthier choices such as fruit.
“I like seeing the families’ and kids’ smiles when they see those backpacks,” said Betty Britt, the school district’s prime time specialist.
“I come here every year,” Tressia Tyner said. “I love seeing the smiles and hugs of the children when they see their friends.”
Tyner teaches at Deep Branch Elementary School in Pembroke. She said the day was also a chance to reconnect with old friends following the summer break.
Bessie Barnes, a first-time celebration attendee and former Miss UNCP, brought her daughter to the event, and said she was impressed at how well organized the event is.
Amy Haigler, coordinator of the system’s Parent-Student, has been orchestrating the back-to-school event for seven years.
“I like giving back to the community,” Haigler said. “If parents can save the money they would spend on a backpack and use it for something else, why not?”
This year they had more giveaways than any other year, Haigler said. She said the system is fortunate that businesses, sponsors, more than 200 volunteers and employees of the district donated items and time.
“It makes them excited to start back. They get the school supplies and crayons and they just get so excited,” said Pretoria McDonald, who lives in Rowland.
Although she enjoys the event every year, Chasity Locklear said she wished it had been a bit more conveniently located.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “I just wish it was closer to the neighborhoods.”
School officials pick the ag center because it can handle thousands of people, and it is in the center of the county, and near two major highways, U.S. 74 and Interstate 95.
Reach Tomeka Sinclair at 910-416-4865.