The logistics of the 2020 Bartow Give a Kid a Chance may have been different, but its mission was still accomplished.
The 13th annual back-to-school event that provides backpacks and school supplies to Bartow County's pre-K through 12th-grade students in need had a new main hub this year, had to convert to a drive-thru pickup system and wasn't able to feature all the services offered in the past, but the youngsters nevertheless received the materials they needed to start the 2020-21 school year.
"I think the event was a good, steady pace this year," said Bailey Beaver, executive director of BLESS Coalition, which coordinated the distribution for the first time. "The number of registrations per time slot were scheduled low enough that we were able to talk to the kids and parents and even allow the students to pick which book bag they wanted. These were initial concerns we had when we realized we would need to change to a drive-thru process. For what it was and what we were able to still offer, I think it was a great success."
The "walk-up numbers" are still being tallied, but last weekend's two-day event served roughly 2,200 kids at six sites in Cartersville, Acworth, Taylorsville, Adairsville, Summer Hill and Kingston, according to Beaver.
"It was about the same as last year," she said. "Having directed other events throughout the year, this seems to be a good average for our community at a big event like this."
With COVID-19 restrictions in place, parents and guardians at all locations had to drive through the distribution site and have their supplies handed to them by a volunteer.
"Families never got our of their cars," Beaver said. "Other than the hair cuts, families received everything they would have at the normal event, even health screening vouchers to be used at the health department. Families would simply drive up, and our volunteers, teachers and administrators would hand them the appropriate-age book bag full of supplies. Having the school staff at this point in the process was great. Kids really got excited seeing some familiar faces."
Each backpack was filled with notebook paper, composition notebooks, binders, a pencil pouch, pencils, pens, crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, scissors, dividers, folders and flash drives.
"We had extra things like toothbrushes and socks that we were able to put in the bags, too," Beaver said.
Kids also received cards for a free ice cream cone at Chick-fil-A, and elementary school students were given free books that the Bartow County School System purchased through a grant.
Volunteers also gave vouchers to parents to get their kids' 3300 medical forms completed at the health department, and the Cartersville City School System's nutrition department passed out lunches.
"We may have missed the hair cuts, but I think we made up for it in other things," Beaver said.
The main site normally is the Bartow County College and Career Academy, but due to renovations there, the base of operations was moved to the Storm Center at Cartersville High School.
"The BCCCA had planned to do some renovations a long time ago, and unfortunately, it was going on during the event," Beaver said. "We hear it looks great over there and can't wait to be back next year."
But the temporary home worked out just fine, according to Beaver.
"We could not have chosen a better location than the Storm Center," she said. "Because of the size of the property, we were able to have room for lots of cars driving through without creating traffic on the roads. The storage space we were given was perfect for organizing and separating for each location and ended up being the main room that we worked out of on Saturday. The flow could not have been better for a drive-thru process."
CHS Principal Shelley Tierce, who volunteered for the fifth year, also thought the Storm Center worked out well for the distribution.
"I was impressed with the event's coordinators," she said. "Everything was organized and well-planned in advance. I feel like everything we are doing in school is modified because of the pandemic; however, we can still find ways to provide for our students and families. Saturday's event was a great example of how we can make modifications and still show our support for our students."
Tierce said Give a Kid a Chance "does exactly what its name says."
"It helps our students enter school on day one with things they need to be successful," she said.
A sixth distribution location in Taylorsville was added this year to provide more access to students.
"Having six locations gave families an opportunity to not have to travel as far to get their supplies," Beaver said. "It also allowed more partners to come on board and make connections with families in their own communities, which can open the door for many different resources."
Beaver said about 120 volunteers worked at the Storm Center, and "probably close to 220" volunteers helped out at the other five sites.
"A lot less was needed this year, for sure, due to the drive-thru process," she said.
Allatoona Elementary counselor Marcia Guse said she "organized book bags on Friday and helped give them out on Saturday" during her third year as a volunteer at the Allatoona Resource Center, "the site where our students go."
"It was extremely organized," she said. "Sharon Montgomery, our leader, was so helpful and kept everyone excited about being there. It was a little different this year because kids couldn't receive our hugs due to COVID-19."
The counselor, who thought the crowd "seemed a little smaller this year, perhaps because of the pandemic," said she loves seeing "firsthand the happiness on the kids' faces" when they receive their shiny new school supplies.
"I love talking to the parents and kids and knowing that we are helping those in our community," she said.
Guse said she was joined this year by 17 other ALES staff members and Read to Grow volunteers who wanted to support their students.
"The event gets them close with our community," she said. "I am very happy with all the participation."
Tierce also loved greeting the families and giving students their supply-filled backpacks.
"I enjoy seeing our students, especially this year because we have not seen many of them since March," she said.
Handing out supplies and greeting students and parents for the fourth year, Adairsville Middle School Principal Tony Stanfill said he and his administrative team "split the time because we felt it was important for our kids to see us supporting them."
"It was also nice just to see their faces again, especially when they smile when we are able to help them," he said. "Makes it worth it anytime you can help someone in need of assistance."
Stanfill also said the Unity Center was a "great location" for Sunday's event "because we were better able to serve students in the Adairsville feeder pattern who may have otherwise missed out due to transportation issues."
"The turnout was good, but we would have loved to see more people," he said.
Guse said having a communitywide event like GAKAC for families in need "helps a lot."
"Bailey Beaver always lets me take the extra supplies to our school, which is a great help to our students and their families during the school year," she said.
Stanfill said he is "extremely thankful for GAKAC."
"They feel it's important for kids to start the new year with a book bag and materials," he said. "It's one less thing the kids have to worry or stress about, and it can set the tone for the whole year. I've worked in four other districts, and I've never worked anywhere that looked out for kids like Bartow County. It's a unique place that I plan to make the last district I work in."
He added AMS also has extra backpacks so any of its students who need one should "let us know, and we'll give it to them at open house or on the first day."
This was Beaver's inaugural year as coordinator, and "what a crazy year to get started," she said.
"But I could not have been mentored by anyone better than the fabulous Barbara Hoffman and people like Kelly Whitmire [homeless liaison for Bartow County Schools] and Maria Davis [social worker for Cartersville City Schools]. I could not have done it without those ladies."
The new coordinator is happy to see the event continuing to grow and meet the needs of Bartow County families.
"I'm amazed at how this event has grown since 2008 and all the volunteers that have kept coming back year after year and supporting this cause," she said. "Most of the supplies were purchased wholesale and could not have been possible without grants and big donors."
Monthly meetings to plan next year's event will begin in January, Beaver said.
"Hopefully, things will be back to normal," she said.