More than 2,000 soldiers and family members filled Fort Stewart’s Newman Fitness Center Thursday for the first-ever, combined Back-to-School and Community Activities Information Registration Fair.
Susan Chipple, Outdoor Recreation supervisor with Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said the installation normally holds a back-to-school fair in July. These fairs usually draw 1,500 to 2,000 people each year, she said.
“This year, we’ve taken it a step further,” Chipple explained. “We’ve expanded it from a back-to-school fair by adding the Community Activities Information Registration or what we call the CAIR Fair. Vendors from the local community and (installation) support activities get to come in to let soldiers and their families know what’s available for them to do (for education and recreation).”
In addition to Fort Stewart’s Department of Defense Education Activity schools, Liberty, Long and Bryan county schools were represented, along with First Presbyterian Christian Academy, First Methodist Preschool and Fort Stewart’s Home School Association. Four colleges were also there, including Savannah Technical College and Armstrong State University.
There were 26 non-profit groups manning booths, including the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce, the Boy Scouts, United Way and the Mary Lou Fraser Foundation for Families. Seventeen garrison activities highlighted services they offer military families, including the Directorate of Public Works’ Fish & Wildlife Division, Winn Army Community Hospital, TRICARE and the Army Wellness Center.
Holbrook Pond & Campground, the Leisure Travel Office and Pet Boarding Facility were among the 18 FMWR agencies on hand. Other agencies attending included VIP Office Supply, La Quinta Inn & Suites and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.
Chipple said there were more than 90 vendors participating. Although each table offered school giveaway items like pens, pencils and rulers, she said there was one vendor that was the favorite among fair-goers. A long line trailed out of the gym into one hall and up another to an exercise room where United Military Care was giving away school supplies, running shoes and backpacks.
“It’s always a blessing to be able to support the military family,” United Military Care Director Christina Anthony said. “We have Mizuno as our main sponsor this year. We’ll give away over 600 Mizuno tennis shoes, over 400 backpacks and some DVDs. We have some sweet treats from Walgreens. And we have school supplies.”
They had lots of notebooks, paper, pencils, markers, erasers and coloring books. They even had Hula Hoops. Anthony said her organization limits its giveaway program to military families only. The length of the line was due to military ID checks before they enter the room. Families then move through the line, placing supplies in bags as they move along.
“My wife called me and asked me to stop by,” Sgt. Houston Brimmage said. “She said she’d heard they were giving away free school supplies and wanted me to check it out. I like the free stuff, but I also like the free information about the Boy Scouts and Stewart’s Fish and Wildlife folks.”
Brimmage said he didn’t pick up any supplies because his wife and children were about to return home to Mississippi because he is leaving for an assignment in Korea. He said his kids won’t be going to school here this year, but if they were, he’d have gladly stood in the long line.
Chipple said the success of this year’s combined fair has led her to hope it becomes an annual event that gets bigger each year.