“The backpacks are back,” said a jubilant Bonnie White, coordinator of Johnson City Schools Homeless Education Program.
For the second time in two years, White was witnessing the delivery of a most welcome gift from the international Feed the Children organization to homeless children attending schools in the Tri-Cities area.
On Friday, White happily took on the role of loading dock foremen, overseeing the delivery and distribution of 600 fully loaded backpack for homeless students attending Johnson City, Washington County, Elizabethton, Kingsport and Bristol schools.
The Feed Children truck arrived at Summit Leadership Foundation warehouse on Hanover Road before 9 a.m. and by 10:30 the backpacks with school supplies, reading books and shelf stable snacks were divvied up, loaded and en route to each of the school systems’ resource centers.
“It means the world to us,” White said. “When we talked to the homeless program liaisons at each of the schools, they all said the same thing we said, ‘This is coming at a great time because what we had at the first of school has run out.’
“And with what it means to us, it means more to the kids to have that brand new backpack and all the supplies.”
In 2011, White successfully negotiated for a even larger backpack delivery from Feed the Children, 2,000 backpacks with supplies, books and snacks that were divided among all city and county school systems in the Tri-Cities area.
Last year, Feed the Children sent its school supply assistance to homeless children in Knoxville area and this year divided the supplies between the two East Tennessee regions. “They go all over the US,” White said.
Looking over the haul Friday morning on the Summit Leadership loading dock, Kay Ward from Bristol school system said, “For students who are new, it gives them a great start to have this gift and it helps us replenish our supplies as the year goes on.
“We want everyone to have all they tools they need to come in ready to learn and this is a huge help,” Ward said
Currently there are 67 homeless children attending Bristol city schools, up from 47 at the beginning of the school year.
In Johnson City, there have been 150 homeless children come through the school system so far this year, compared to more than 700 homeless children who attended school in Johnson City over the course of the previous school year.
“It means a lot for a new kid coming in and at least once a week we get a new (homeless) family, usually more than that,” White said.