More than 600 schoolchildren at Letcher County Elementary School in Blackey, Kentucky will start the school year with full backpacks of supplies thanks to the Mission of Hope and volunteers, including the staff of Lexington Family Magazine.
On August 7, we participated MOH’s Back to School Backpack Program in which the Christian, non-profit ministry provides more than 10,000 schoolchildren at 27 schools in Appalachia – 15 of them in Kentucky – with school supplies.
For the trip to Blackey, we met at our offices at 6:30 a.m. with members of Versailles Baptist Church and Quest Community Church.
In vans and cars, the group of more than two dozen volunteers trekked three hours to Letcher Elementary where we met Emmette Thompson, the executive director of MOH.
Our jobs as volunteers included unloading the supplies into the school gym and then arraying the backpacks, pens, pencils, glue sticks, scissors, paper, folders and hygiene items on tables.
We welcomed the students as they entered the gym and then one by one, we helped students fill their backpacks as they selected their supplies.
It was a family affair for Lexington Family Magazine with children of our staff joining the group. Laurie Evans, our events coordinator, brought her daughters Aimee, 19, and Melissa, 14.
Cooper Boss, the high-spirited 14-year-old son of Kristi, our account representative, had so much fun, he made his mother promise that they would come back again.
That obviously gratified Kristi.
I felt the same way about my son, Jack, now 20, who impressed me by getting up at 6 a.m. to make the trip. I knew he would connect with the kids and he didn’t disappoint. On the drive home, he regaled Gary Mazza, our vice president for sales, and me with stories of his humorous and touching encounters with the schoolchildren.
Letcher County Elementary sits in the heart of coal country, an area with high unemployment facing rough times. Approximately 85% of the students are on free or reduced lunch – and this year the school is supplying all students with free breakfast and lunch.
We were amazed at how grateful the kids were to receive what most of us would consider modest supplies – two pencils, two pens, one box of crayons, etc.
After going through the line, the younger kids scrambled over to their teachers, with their backpacks already strapped on and broad smiles creasing their faces.
Those smiles accompanied us on the three-hour trip home – and will stay with us for weeks and months to come.