Families receive free backpacks and supplies at the SPS Back to School Bash

Families began lining up outside the Springfield Expo Center an hour before the scheduled back-to-school opening.

To get parents and children out of the rain sooner, Springfield Public Schools opened 30 minutes earlier.

Alicia Keyek, who has three teenagers, was among the first to arrive. She wanted to find parking before the event got crowded.

“That’s awesome. I appreciate that so much, you have no idea,” she said. “With three teenagers at home, it’s been a godsend for us.”

Saturday’s event offered free backpacks, hygiene kits, vaccinations and physical exams as well as fun activities including bouncy houses, e-sports, games and robotics.

Parents and students pick up free backpacks at the Springfield Public School Back-to-School Party at the Springfield Expo Center on Saturday.

“This is the first time we have planned a back-to-school event on this scale,” said SPS Superintendent Grenita Lathan. “We want families to come, have fun, and have the opportunity to access resources that will help them be ready for the first day of school.”

The new school year begins on August 22.

Keyek said the top priority was getting backpacks for the two girls and a boy.

“I was looking for supplies for them, not so much markers as notebooks,” she said, pointing to the backs of the table. “It’s just extra.”

The line in front of the Springfield Expo Center began to form an hour before Springfield's public school back-to-school party begins on Saturday.

At the event, the first of its kind for the district, Convoy of Hope distributed bags full of groceries to families to celebrate a milestone. The local nonprofit has served more than 200 million people since its inception in 1994.

“It is important to celebrate these milestones with gratitude,” said Hal Donaldson, founder and CEO of Convoy of Hope, in a press release.

“We are extremely grateful to the people who have made this possible: our generous individual and corporate partners, our volunteers, our team members and the people we serve. We believe this is just the beginning as God gives us the ability to impact more lives, to strive to end generational poverty and to give people hope.”

While browsing the Expo Center, Keyek picked up other freebies, including free food.

“The races are an added benefit,” she said. “I wasn’t really looking for that. It was a nice surprise.”

The Central High School Kilties performed at the Springfield Public Schools Back to School Party on Saturday.

Keyek said the one-stop approach “takes the pressure off” to prepare for the new school year.

Mid-morning, Lathan waved to the growing crowd from a stage before the Central High School Kilties show.

She joked about the “beautiful” rainy day and thanked the volunteers for making the event possible.

“We are excited to be able to provide resources for our parents as we prepare for the 2022-23 school year,” she said.

Stephanie Stoner brought two children. They attend Pittman Elementary School and Glendale High School.

“We’re more of a middle-income family and (going back to school) is a lot,” she said. “That’s a lot of spending at the same time.”

Richard Betts carries his son Denver, 2, on his shoulders during the Springfield Public School Back To School Bash at the Springfield Expo Center.

She showed up at 9:30 a.m., when the doors were originally supposed to open, to see what was available.

“We lined up at 9:30 a.m. and just got in,” Stoner said shortly before 10 a.m. “One of the places here had school supplies and they were gone.”

The program “On your marks. Get set. Stock up!” initiative collected school supplies until the end of July. These items will be distributed by teachers during the first week of class.

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At the event, the district planned to distribute at least 4,500 backpacks.

“We were going to try to get them backpacks. Backpacks are quite expensive,” she said. “We’re just looking for some extra school supplies to get us started and entertain the kids.”

In addition to giveaways, the SPS Back To School Bash had bouncing houses, games, robotics and esports set up for students on Saturday.

Stoner said it was the first time she had recalled the district bringing together so many resources under one roof.

“It was a great idea,” she said. “In all my years with the district, I’ve never had this – especially with COVID.”

She said her children are “not quite ready” for school, especially the high schooler who is going to a new building this fall.

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For weeks, Ron Woodard, director of wraparound services for the district, collected prizes and other items donated for the event.

There were hourly draws for prizes like Apple Air Pods, a laptop, and gift cards.

Chris and Brittany Farr brought three of their children to the event. The two oldest attend Holland Elementary and Jarrett Middle School.

Adalynn Brazas, 7, reacts in awe as she watches a demonstration of a robot dog at Springfield Public School's back-to-school party at the Springfield Expo Center on Saturday.

They showed up for school supplies but were also excited to see other parents.

“With COVID and all, we haven’t been able to go out and do a bunch of festival stuff,” Brittany Farr said. “That’s pretty cool.”

He said the goal was to pick up “everything we can”.

In recent years, Brittany Farr has said she’ll attend a back-to-school event at a local church and then start shopping for supplies in the weeks before classes start.

“It’s nice to have everything in one place,” she said.

Claudette Riley is the News-Leader’s educational reporter. Email news tips to criley@news-leader.com.

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