1,000 backpacks donated during the Back to School Jam Friday

Aug. 7—Local children received about 1,000 backpacks full of school supplies Friday during the annual back-to-school season in Ingalls Harbor. And Decatur’s director of youth services, Brandon Watkins, said it’s always a “blessing” to help children and their parents every year.

“It’s a joy to be able to help the unfortunate and help the schools,” Watkins said. “It’s something we work hard for every year to make sure kids are ready to go back to school.”

Hundreds of children and parents attended the event, playing on inflatables, dancing to music and enjoying fresh hot dogs and burgers, all for free.

Watkins said DYS started the event more than 20 years ago to help children from low-income backgrounds.

“A lot of kids didn’t have bookbags, so we wanted to make sure they were equal and no less than other kids who had bookbags,” Watkins said.

DYS Deputy Director Shannon Shackelford said donations this year came from the Decatur Housing Authority, the Kiwanis Club of Decatur and the Rotary Noon Club of Decatur. Each organization donated at least $1,000.

Winston Engram also presented Decatur Youth Services with a check for $250 at the event on behalf of George W. Braxdall Lodge No. 28 in Decatur to help offset the cost of backpacks and supplies. Engram said the lodge has been donating to the event for many years.

“It feels good,” Engram said. “A lot of our own kids have been through it and participated, so it’s a joy to give back to the community.”

Ariah Stovall and her friends Olivia and Brayden Thomas, all eighth graders at Decatur Middle School, showed off the new markers, crayons and notebooks they received. They come to the Back to School Jam every year.

“It’s a good opportunity, especially if you’re homeless and trying to go to school, you can always come here and get a free backpack,” Stovall said.

Brayden Thomas said he was grateful to have extra crayons this year because he always breaks crayons in class.

Shankerri Taylor came to the Jam to pick up supplies for her neighbor’s children, who attend Austin Middle.

“It’s great that they’re helping the community because some people just don’t get it,” Taylor said. “Everything is going up and everyone needs help.”

Shackelford said this year the event featured a Teachers’ Corner, where teachers could receive free classroom supplies.

Austin Junior High teacher Elizabeth Webb stocked up for her class and reconnected with former students who were at the event.

“I think it’s very generous of (Decatur Youth Services) to give all of this to us,” said Webb, who teaches ninth grade Spanish and French. “I primarily came to connect with parents, students and the community because I really want us to be partners and work together for our students so they can have the best.”

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