After spending the morning learning how to fish, more than 200 children hurriedly formed a line around Waddill Outdoor Education Center and waited in anticipation for their gifts in the sweltering July heat on Saturday afternoon.
Volunteers handed out mesh backpacks full of school supplies donated by Planned Parenthood to every child that passed.
Keylariah James, 4, squealed, “I’m going to school, mom,” as she pranced off with her brand new, hot pink book bag.
Wendell Williams, the event’s organizer, said this year’s Fishing for Backpacks, Back to School event saw many more attendees and children registered than when it debuted last year.
Williams, 34, played in the NFL until he was injured, forcing him to come back to his hometown, Baton Rouge. He then founded Outdoors Unlimited Fencing Company, a major sponsor of the back-to-school event.
Williams also is vice president of the Goodtimes Bass Club, another major sponsor. The club, established in 1976, meets once a month to discuss community issues and what they can do to help.
The two organizations collaborated to start the event in 2015.
“Our goal is to show the kids the experience of the outdoors and help the parents who can’t afford school supplies,” Williams said.
Williams said he couldn’t have asked for better timing for the back-to-school event because of the politically charged climate in Baton Rouge following the death of Alton Sterling.
“This is an event where you can take your mind off what’s going on in society. It’s a chance to do something positive because a lot of negative stuff is going on,” said Williams.
After the initial giveaway, Williams announced the winners of various raffle prizes, including bikes, tablets, woodworking kits, school uniforms and free haircuts supplied by Studio 623.
Big name companies such as Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and Lowe’s provided many of the raffle prizes and food for the event.
Volunteers for the event were mostly friends and family of Williams, but a local group, Friends 4 Giving, also provided some much needed assistance.
“Friends 4 Giving is a nonprofit dedicated to women and children,” said Breshatta Davis, a founding member and Southern University graduate.
Romesia Capers, another founding member, described Williams as a good friend, and said she was happy to help him.
“This is the most wonderful event I’ve been to,” said Sen. Regina Barrow, who also donated to the event, with a beaming smile.
“We plan on doing it again next year - same time, same place,” said Williams.