It may have been hot and humid outside, but temps were cool and spirits were high inside the Robert E. Sechrest, Sr. Field House on the campus of Mineral Area College on Saturday.
The field house was the site of the sixth annual St. Francois County Back-to-School Fair, an event for area families who need help acquiring school supplies.
All students county-wide with families who are either eligible or already receiving some type of governmental assistance, including food stamps and Medicaid, were invited to attend the fair.
At this year’s event every eligible child received an assortment of school supplies and a shoe gift card, as well as complimentary refreshments, goodies and entertainment that was available throughout the day.
Pre-registration was required to attend the event to ensure an adequate amount of supplies and to stagger the times participants arrived to avoid congestion and disorder.
“(Groups) are scheduled 15 minutes apart all the way from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., which is our last appointment and then it’ll take ‘em about an hour to finish after the last ones come through,” said Katie Hahn Burt, office manager for Young Faith in Christ, one of the event’s sponsors.
The day of the event volunteers were stationed around the field house to help direct parents and their kids through the fair, beginning with free health screenings followed by stops to collect complimentary school supplies and t-shirts.
“We’ve been giving out to around 500 children every year, approximately,” said Mike Ward from Young Faith in Christ. “For school supplies, we’ll be giving out paper, pencils — all the supplies the school recommends for them — and they get a backpack to go with it for every child.”
The atmosphere of the event is bright and cheerful with music playing and kids getting their faces painted by local artists. One young girl had a personalized smiley face painted on the inside of her wrist.
Mickie Toombs from The Boulevard day spa, hair and tanning salon in Farmington was on hand giving free haircuts to the kids.
“She’s done some 200 haircuts today,” said Burt.
Volunteers and representatives from many other businesses and agencies were also present to ensure the day was successful and fun for the families.
“It’s amazing how people come together,” said Burt. “We have some very generous people who donate cash and several churches have just really jumped in.
“The Assembly of God has been amazing. They’re doing the music, they’re doing the smoothies; they brought their own popcorn machine. And then the Bismarck VFW Ladies Auxiliary; every year they come and just cook hot dogs. That’s their contribution.
“And the Leadington VFW people are also amazing. They buy an enormous amount of supplies and hand them out. And T.J. with the (St. Francois County) ambulance district is here handing out pencil boxes. They fill pencil boxes (with supplies) every year for different levels; for younger ones and older ones.
“This year we also had First State Community Bank from Bonne Terre. They jumped in and brought a whole bunch of supplies. And then we have different (organizations) that come with information, such as Parents-as-Teachers and East Missouri Action Agency.
Pointing to a large set-up of long tables in the center of the field house that’s populated with a colorful and varied collection of t-shirts, Burt said, “Members of the First Baptist Church have been (coming) here longer than we have handing out t-shirts.”
Each child who attended the event got to pick out and take home two free t-shirts.
The event was sponsored by the United Way of St. Francois County, the St. Francois County Ambulance District, Leadington VFW and Ladies Auxiliary and Young Faith in Christ.
Amy Patterson is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.