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YMCA and volunteers rally for drive-through backpack pick-up

The annual neighborhood Back to School Rallies had a different look and feel in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, but the result was the same: distributing free backpacks and school supplies for thousands of Lexington students.

“My kids are absolutely devastated about not going back (for in-person learning), but getting a backpack gives them some sort of normalcy like we’re starting back to school,” said Breanna Hammond, who has two daughters attending Tates Creek Elementary. She spent about 15 minutes in line Aug. 15 outside Woodhill Community Center, one of the busier rally sites. Vehicles stretched several blocks as drivers eased through the parking lot, and masked volunteers handed them bundles through open windows.

Chloe Martin, youth coordinator for Urban Impact, had helped label and sort backpacks by pick-up time and family name. The Woodhill site drew assistance from staff at Henry Clay High School, Crawford and Edythe J. Hayes middle schools, and Breckinridge Elementary. Two translators were also on hand. Martin praised the YMCA of Central Kentucky for a great job with the logistics, noting, “They’ve been working for over two months to prepare.”

The YMCA has coordinated this event since 2011 in partnership with Fayette County Public Schools, sponsors, and community hosts. The rallies typically provide some 6,000 students (K-12) with full-size canvas backpacks and school supplies like binders, spiral notebooks, pencils, and crayons. And ordinarily, families and students can attend any rally site in town, registering in person the morning of the event. However, given the pandemic, the Y had to adjust the blueprint – trimming the number of host sites from 15 to seven in Lexington, forgoing the usual hot dogs, lawn games, and resource tables, and requiring families to sign up in advance for a rally location and pick-up time.

“We were originally leaning toward not doing the rallies because the goal is to bring communities together to have some fun and get supplies to start the school year. However, in talks with our coordinators, there was still a need. We are practicing the safety guidelines around events, and we decided we could do that with a drive-through-only Back to School Rallies,” said Jessica Berry, the YMCA’s vice president of Mission Advancement.   

Since that decision came late, the YMCA ordered only 4,000 backpacks, and all were spoken for via RSVP in a matter of days. Happily, the story continues. “The community has really responded in terms of donations and sponsorships. We’re ordering an additional 1,000 backpacks because of the need,” Berry said of the past week’s flurry.

Miranda Scully, the school district’s coordinator for Family & Community Engagement, will help the Family Resource Centers and Youth Services Centers distribute the extra backpacks – likely in neighborhoods that didn’t host a drive-through rally. “This is a starting point, so we’ll be working with FRYSC coordinators and community partners to maintain a supply for families,” she said. Scully also noted the topic of the Aug. 20 edition of Face It (a Facebook-based support network for families) happens to be student support amid virtual/distance learning -- covering basic needs, social-emotional needs, and school supplies.

“We appreciate our community for rallying and getting these supplies in the hands of families who need them,” said the YMCA’s Berry. “They responded to the call for action to make sure students are ready for school, no matter what that looks like. It’s truly amazing.”

Sheriff Kathy Witt

Sheriff volunteers to reconnect at Booker T. Washington Elementary

Among the Saturday morning volunteers at the Back to School Rallies were Fayette County Sheriff Kathy Witt and about 15 of her officers. “We always try to participate. We love this event, and it helps us reconnect with kids,” Witt said outside the school. “It’s sad we don’t have that direct connectivity (because of COVID-19), but you can speak to the kids when they roll the window down.”

(Posted Aug. 15, 2020)

Tammy L. Lane, district webmaster
(859) 381-4236