Hundreds of children and their parents packed the bleachers of the gymnasium at Rock Hill’s Flexible Learning Center Thursday afternoon, waiting for their opportunity to pick up free supplies and other items before the start of the school year.
The annual drive routinely draws about 1,000 participants. Volunteers help distribute the items, which are donated by members of the community.
“Getting ready for school is very exciting for a lot of kids and a lot of families, but it’s very expensive,” said Serena Williams, coordinator of community services for Rock Hill schools. “It’s critically important for our students who may not have the means to go out and obtain their own supplies.”
The annual school supply drive is a partnership between The Herald and its sister community newspapers – Fort Mill Times, Enquirer-Herald and Lake Wylie Pilot – and the school districts in York, Chester and Lancaster counties.
Families queued up outside the building in a line that stretched into the parking lot. Some parents had been waiting for hours to make sure their children would get access to the supplies, which are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
A Rock Hill mother named Beverly got in line outside at 10 a.m. The doors opened at 1:30 p.m.
“I’m the first person, and I hope to be the first person out of here,” joked Beverly, who brought along her two kids as well as a niece and nephew. It’s the third year she has participated in the drive.
“It helps out,” she said. “We look forward to it every year.”
The drive started during the economic recession as a way to help the community prepare for the school year, Williams said, but participation has been consistent in the years since.
Debbie Abels, president and publisher of The Herald, said she is grateful to everyone who made the drive possible.
“Your generosity means hundreds of children will approach learning with optimism that the school year holds the same possibilities for them as the next child,” she said.
Inside the school, more than 30 volunteers like Rett Rutland, an insurance agent from Rock Hill, stood behind tables with boxes of black knapsacks loaded with notebooks and folders, ready to greet children.
“I can’t believe how many people are here,” said Rutland, 39, who decided to volunteer this year with his wife and two kids. It’s one of several community service events in which the family participates.
“It’s a good eye-opening experience for my kids,” who are both of elementary-school age, he said.
Aside from assorted binders and backpacks, uniforms for middle schoolers were also available at the drive.
“When they start that first day of school, they’re ready to go – just like everybody else,” said Deana Peterson of Oakland Baptist Ministry Center, which has provided uniforms at the drive for the past four years.
Peterson, an assistant professor at Winthrop University’s College of Education, has led the uniform portion of the drive every year, collecting gently-used uniforms so each student who needs them receives two sets.
They always run out of uniforms, she said, since the need always outpaces what the volunteers are able to collect. It also can be difficult to gather enough uniforms in the various school colors, she said.
In the back of the uniform room was a makeshift dressing room with mirrors, allowing students to make sure everything fits and also ensure that they “look good,” Peterson said.
“We don’t just want them to grab something,” she said. “It’s important to have a good start.”
Jie Jenny Zou • 803-329-4062