Photo: Backpacks for school students were part of the giveaways during Saturday’s DeSoto County Dream Center event in Horn Lake. (Bob Bakken/desotocountynews.com)
By Deamonte Hurd
With back to school season being in full effect, once again, parents of students are finding themselves under the financial stress of purchasing backpacks, pencils, paper and other school supplies, but it’s important for them to know that they may have some help, and lots of it.
DeSoto County Dream Center was expecting a crowd of about 3,000 people on Saturday at Latimer Lakes in Horn Lake to come out for their annual backpack giveaway, and they had more than 200 volunteers ready to lend a hand to give away over 1,000 backpacks and school supplies to local students in need.
With support from volunteers and organizations like the Homer Skelton Charitable Foundation, the non-profit, a leading organization dedicated to Title 1 school students and their families in DeSoto County, was well on their way.
“We have, I think, 230 volunteers today. A couple of groups, a couple of churches showed up with people. Amazon is here with people, FedEx, other entities that all joined us,” said Terri Sparkman, Community and Donor Relations Coordinator.
The backpack giveaway not only promised much needed school supplies, but also a free day of fun for the whole family. There were bounce houses, face painting, snow cones, hot dogs, Starbucks and more.
“The point here is not to just give families something, but to really get to know them and to affect change going forward. So, not just giving a backpack and saying, ‘here, take this,’ but to let the families pick what they want, get what they need, and to really inspire them to have a great year,” said Desoto County Dream Center Director Jenna Kern.
The backpack giveaway drew such a large crowd that they had to form two lines, whereas last year, they had only one line. One parent was afraid that she wouldn’t make it to the front of the line before she had to leave for her son’s basketball game. She was advised by a member of the Dream Center’s staff to go and grab food for her and the kids to help pass the time.
Another parent, 33-year-old Kelsey Spooner of Horn Lake, said that she arrived an hour before the event was set to start and that there were already about 300 people in line.
“Once they opened it up, it only took about 20 minutes or so. We came last year and we came about the same time. Well, I think we came a little later, so we tried to come a little earlier this year,” said Spooner.
Many of the families there had attended the backpack giveaway in previous years, or were already familiar with the DeSoto County Dream Center and its host of other resources for the community, like heath care for the working uninsured.
“We do all kinds of things at the Dream Center, so it also opens it up so that they know who we are and when there’s a need, they can come to us,” said Kern. “One of the things at the Dream Center is not just meeting the need but finding out why there is a need and figuring out how we can help your family not have this need going forward.”
While the Dream Center has a strong volunteer base, you can never have enough help when you’re a non-profit, said Sparks. “We have a database, so anytime they serve with us, they get logged in. And when we’re getting ready to have an event, we send an email blast to them. So that’s how they know.”
For anyone considering volunteering with the Dream Center, Sparkman’s advice is to just do it.
“Just come, and you can even shadow or you could just come and check it out. First thing I’d recommend is just contacting us and taking a tour. See our facilities, hear about all the details,see all the things,” said Sparkman. “Then after that, people are so excited, they’re like ‘where do I sign up?’”