Getting kids ready for the start of a new school year can be stressful, time-consuming and expensive. But that task has been made a little easier for the residents of Countryside Village in Columbia, TN.
For the last six years, this UMH community of 350+ homes just outside Nashville has given away backpacks filled with school supplies to all 300 school-age kids who live there.
Community Manager Sue Salisbury and her team start planning the event months ahead of time. Local vendors and contractors make donations to get the ball rolling. Then Salisbury buys high-quality backpacks in an array of sizes and colors to fit varying ages and tastes.
Residents are asked to register their kids’ needs at least three weeks prior to the giveaway. As the day of the event approaches, volunteers assemble in the community center to fill the bags with the grade-appropriate supplies: crayons, pencils, scissors, etc for K-4; and pens and ruled notebooks for older students. The backpacks are labeled with each child’s name to eliminate confusion and potential bickering.
And if you’re a kid, here’s the best part: Three of the backpacks, chosen at random, contain a gift card that can be exchanged for a shiny new bike!
Salisbury calls the event the "Backpack Party" for good reason. It lasts the better part of a day and brings together the entire community for lunch, games and prize drawings.
This program has been a boon to many single-parent and low-income families. It’s also earned accolades from school officials who credit the event with giving kids the basic tools they need to learn on day 1. “Teachers tell me that some kids show up for the first day of school with just the clothes on their back,” says Salisbury. “That puts them at a disadvantage.”
The Backpack Party may be the most popular community-wide celebration of the year at Countryside Village, but it’s certainly not the only one. Three separate luncheons celebrate the contributions made by the local fire fighters, police officers and sheriff’s department.
Sue Salisbury and UMH are making a difference by putting their residents first.