Fort Stewart families stood in long lines Wednesday at Club Stewart for free school supplies and information during Fort Stewart’s annual Back-to-School Fair.
This year’s giveaway supplies from United Military Care included pencils, notebooks and book bags in addition to sports shoes and heavy-duty backpacks donated by Mizuno, “Techie” Bears donated by Toys-R-Us, snacks donated by Walgreens and gift cards donated by Walmart.
United Military Care Director Christina Anthony said that this year, they wanted to provide items some military families couldn’t afford.
“We decided to give them more choices,” Anthony said. “We’re into the whole educational enlightenment of the family. Mizuno donated over 600 pairs of sports shoes, size 4 on up to 16. Other donations came from Toys-R-Us, Walgreens and Walmart. It’s really wonderful.”
For a while, the waiting line for the giveaways in Club Stewart’s Patriot Corner stretched outside and around the building. The line inside the main ballroom opened up just a bit, as parents with children went from station to station to learn about on- and off-post schools and other school-related information.
At each table, parents collected pencils, rulers, cups and information about schools and agencies. Georgia State Park’s gopher mascot and First Christian Academy in Richmond Hill’s eagle mascot mingled with the crowds, accepting hugs from children. Rosa Michael, 5, rushed over to hug the big eagle, who squatted down to receive her. Her mom, Danielle Michael, admitted she thought it was the mascot for Georgia Southern.
In addition to representatives from Kessler, Brittin and Diamond elementary schools, Liberty County Schools also provided representatives. Greg Cook, Fort Stewart school liaison, said his office was there to answer questions that new military families have about both on-and off-post schools.
“Our parent customers come to us for transition information,” Cook said. “We’re the subject-matter experts for local education policies, whether it’s on-post, state, local or private. Any incoming or departing military family can come to us for information about schools. We are partners with the schools.”
David Smith, youth-education specialist with the Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation’s Child, Youth and School Services, said the purpose of the fair was two-fold.
“First, we bring representatives from the schools and (education-related) agencies here to provide information for military families,” Smith said. “We also help military families prepare for the upcoming school year by giving away school supplies.”
A wealth of information was available from schools and other agencies, such as the Fraser Counseling Center, Army Public Health Nursing, Stewart’s Outdoor Recreation, Fort McAllister Historic Park, Coastal Georgia’s Botanical Garden, the Girl Scouts and Club Beyond.
Army and Air Force Exchange Service representative Hafeeza McCullough answered questions about school supplies, school uniforms and youth fashions available at Fort Stewart’s Main Post Exchange. AAFES managers Donald Basil, Cleo Hollingsworth and Susan Harris assisted McCullough with information about the availability of other school-related items.
“I came here mostly for the school supplies,” said Eliana Velez, whose five children include three school-age children. “I have one going to school on-post, one at Midway Middle School and one at Bradwell Institute. I’ve never been to anything like this.”
Mitch Finley, of the Department of Defense Education Activity, and Elisabeth Pingley and Veronica DeLeon, both with Kessler Elementary School, answered Velez’s questions about on-post schools and directed her to the right source for information about Midway Middle School and Bradwell Institute.
The first day of school for Fort Stewart schools is Aug. 6, but beginning Aug. 31, DoDEA schools will close each Friday until Sept. 30 as part of the mandatory furloughs for most federal employees.