MIDDLEBURG – The Salvation Army’s fifth annual Backpack Outreach will offer free haircuts, sports physicals, hot dogs, immunizations and, of course, backpacks filled with school supplies on …
MIDDLEBURG – The Salvation Army’s fifth annual Backpack Outreach will offer free haircuts, sports physicals, hot dogs, immunizations and, of course, backpacks filled with school supplies on Friday, July 16.
The Salvation Army has been serving individuals and families in Clay County for years and the outreach was another arm of the wide-spreading services the organization officers. It helped county families at 2795 County Road 220.
“According to the Department of Education’s Pre-K through 12 Education Information Services, 817 students were homeless in Clay County plus [there were] 167 unaccompanied youth with no legal guardian or parent,” Salvation Army social service and food pantry manager Jennifer Wheeler said. “Our partnership with the Clay County School District and Project R.E.A.C.H allows us to work together to use our programs and services to help stabilize these families.”
Wheeler said the outreach is important because a student unprepared for class or hungry before school will struggle to focus on learning. She wants people to know that social workers can pick up food for families in need that do not have transportation or gas to get to The Salvation Army food pantry. “The event is free of charge and raises awareness about the needs and services available to children and families of Clay County,” Wheeler said.
She said Ascension St. Vincent’s will be providing free school immunizations to students, although those interested will need to call (904) 308-7919 before the event. Free sports physicals will be administered by Ascension St. Vincent’s as well while OneSight is providing vision screenings. SportsClips also will provide free haircuts.
Wheeler stressed how wonderful it is that so many local businesses and organizations get involved this year. Those aren’t the only ones helping out though. She said YMCA’s Take Stock in Children, Medicaid, Clay County’s libraries, Mercy Support Services, the Department of Health for Woman, Infants, and Children, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and Habitat for Humanity are involved as well.
The event is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. while supplies last and those interested in getting involved or looking to learn more can contact Wheeler at (904) 276-6677. You must be a student or parent of a student in the Clay County School District to attend. The event has grown over its five years into a massive event.
“Five years ago, The Salvation Army would take school supplies that were collected from our Stuff the Bus campaign to a local elementary school offering basic needs school supplies for students in need,” Maj. Corps Officer Phillip Irish said. “A school social worker reached out because she had a family who was homeless, living in their vehicle – a mom, a dad, three children and a dog.”
Irish said the family would come to the Salvation Army in the morning to take showers and eat breakfast before taking the children to school. Parents then would spend their day looking for jobs and a permanent place to live. “Finally, over the summer, we were able to house the family in their own apartment,” Irish said. “That is when I reached out to Project R.E.A.C.H, who also works with families in transition, to see how many students are homeless in Clay County schools and asked if they’d like to partner with us and do a backpack outreach.”
They agreed and the first outreach event five years ago was a huge success that met an underlying need going unmet within Clay County – they handed out more than 200 backpacks that day.
“Over the last five years, the Backpack Outreach event has grown,” Irish said. “We have established community-lasting bonds with service-related agencies, education-related entities and local businesses that make a difference in the lives of children in this great community.”
Wheeler said The Salvation Army is expecting twice as many attendees this year following last year’s COVID-19 pandemic, which left even more people in need.