On Saturday at Cartersville Civic Center, the Bartow Give a Kid a Chance event assisted nearly 2,000 disadvantaged youth entering pre-K through 12th grade. Along with school supplies, recipients also received complimentary services, such as haircuts, and dental, vision and hearing screenings.
“We had an amazing response from everybody — Chamber businesses as well as the faith-based community and all of our social service partners,” said Tina Grubbs, executive director for Bartow Collaborative. “We had over 300 volunteers here on Saturday throughout the day. Then we served approximately 1,500 while they were here and then we had probably another 200 to come in from 4 to 5 [p.m.] during the time that we opened it up for those who did not get a chance to register.
“... [Three hundred backpacks] — that’s all we have left and what we have just done this morning is distribute those to the city and the county [schools] for their counselors to go ahead and begin the process of distributing to the ones that didn’t get here. So everything right now is gone. Everything is back out in the community. So we are tickled. Not $1 was spent toward administrative costs.”
For Toni Candelas Couch, a Bartow Collaborative board member, volunteering at Bartow Give a Kid a Chance was a heartwarming experience. In her first time participating in the event, the Rydal resident served as an English/Spanish translator.
“It was a tearjerker,” Couch said. “It was amazing and seeing the kids, they were just so excited, especially some of the high-schoolers. When they found out there was a flash drive ... it was like they just received $1 million.
“... The siblings of the high-schoolers and middle-schoolers that came up were so excited. I asked them, ‘What school do you go to? What grade [are you] going to be in?’ [Seeing] their eyes just light up getting their backpack and choosing what color they get — it really looked like they felt like they were at Disney World or something. It was just amazing.”
Echoing Grubbs’ comments, Brenda Morehouse — president of the United Way of Bartow County — also credits the community’s support for the successful Christmas in July campaign.
Organized by the United Way of Bartow County in partnership with the Georgia Department of Labor’s Bartow County Employer Committee/HR Council and Bartow Collaborative, the monthlong drive helped replenish the dwindling shelves at three area food banks and equip students through the Bartow Give a Kid a Chance offering.
“The overall response was absolutely incredible both for the food and for all the school supplies,” Morehouse said, adding along with school supplies, the drive also contributed $3,000 to Bartow Give a Kid a Chance. “The food that we raised we gave to New Beginnings Food Outreach, Salvation Army and North Bartow Community Services. All together, there was close to 50,000 items donated and out of that 50,000 items, I would say Gerdau ... was responsible for about 60 percent of that.
“The reason why the donations for the food are so important is because we have a lot of kids that are dependent on the breakfast and lunch programs in school. When they’re out for the summer, those parents have these children at home and that’s an extra two meals a day that they’re spending money for to provide now and a lot of these parents can’t afford it. So they turn to local food pantries to fill the gap. A lot of the food pantries were down to the last that they had before we started the food drive at the beginning of July. So, if it wasn’t for the food drive, I don’t think they would have been able to serve as many people as they normally do.”
Participating in the Christmas in July campaign for numerous years, Gerdau Cartersville Mill’s employees annually compete amongst themselves in a friendly contest to collect the most non-perishable food items.
“The employees at the mill have long appreciated that not everyone has the same opportunities,” said John Cremers, Gerdau’s Rolling Mill Improvement Facilitator and past United Way board member. “They like the fact Christmas in July gives back directly to those in need. Gerdau encourages us to be good partners with the community, so Christmas in July fits us on many levels.”