HAMMOND — Rachel Foley, an 89-year-old grandmother, sat under a blue umbrella in her wheelchair and patiently waited for hours in line to receive free school supplies for her two grandchildren.
“Despite the overwhelming heat, I am going to do whatever I can to help my grandbabies,” Foley said. “This certainly includes coming here today and getting what will help them in school.”
The crowd gathered early Saturday in Zemurray Park as people waited for the 10th annual Lord Save the Children Back-to-School Bash to begin. While some arrived early to help set up booths, prepare for their performances and organize the materials to be given to the students, most came to get a premier spot in line to receive their school supplies and backpacks.
Evangelist Carolyn Jackson, director of Lord Save the Children, has been pulling area businesses and organizations together to support area children get a fresh start each school year since she began the event in 2004.
“The best and most effective way to help the little children get the best out of their education is to give them the tools they need to accomplish this feat,” Jackson said. “This is all about the children, their needs and our responsibility to help them. For 10 years, we have seen an enormous amount of generosity from our community to bring these materials to these needy families.”
At 6:30 p.m., the gates opened, and the distribution of materials began. Each family created a single-file line to receive school supplies and backpacks. Chasittee Wilson, 10, of Hammond, jumped up and down, hugging her backpack. “It’s so pretty. I can’t wait for school to start,” she shouted. “I’ve always wanted a backpack just like this.”
In addition to receiving schools supplies, several booths provided information and educational material on a number of topics. LSU AgCenter Agent Donna Landry, of Hammond, sat in the sun for hours without a tent or shade to hand out pamphlets and materials on the value of hand washing. She repeatedly demonstrated to the children how germs can be transmitted and the importance of doing these things to stay well.
“I am actually enjoying myself,” Landry said. “The kids and their families are courteous, interested and enthusiastically participate in my interactive exercises here.”
The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office Young Marines came out early and were seen pitching tents, unloading equipment, setting up chairs, assisting with directions and helping to distribute bottles of water.
“I really like the things we do, and we learn so many important things like discipline, staying away from drugs and helping others,” said Young Marine Violet Jackson. “We came early because we need extra service hours and wanted to do our best to help the kids who need help. That’s what we do.”
The Young Marines marched in formation and performed some exercises for the cheering crowd.
Laura Rideout, shift manager for Raising Cane's, wiped her brow in amazement. “I can’t believe it. Within 30 minutes, we had given out over 100 liters of lemonade to thirsty Cane’s fans,” she said. “And the kids keep coming and coming. What an amazing day.”
“This is our first time coming to this back to school party,” Roxanne Brunious said. “It is a tremendous and awesome experience for my children and my family.”
Brunious said she was also impressed with the variety of vendors offering educational information and other important things the children need. “My children each received a small Bible from the Gideon International organization; this really impressed me,” she said.
As the distribution continued, DJ Gospel Marcus Markle Newsome, of Hammond, played Christian music while a larger-than-life Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants shook the children’s hands.
At the end of the event, an exhausted and emotional Carolyn Jackson stood at the microphone, raised her hand and praised God’s goodness for the success of this year’s event and asked for his support for next year’s bash.