The Salvation Army rallies Chattanooga to fill children’s backpacks with supplies
By: David Ibata
Imagine a Salvation Army warehouse filled with thousands of boxes of crayons, glue sticks and other sundries; and 500 volunteers fanning out across seven locations in Chattanooga, Tenn., on a Saturday in August to fill 6,500 children’s backpacks with those school supplies.
That was the busy and happy scene recently as The Salvation Army Chattanooga Area Command joined churches, businesses and other community partners in “Backpack Chattanooga” to ensure youngsters at 12 Title 1 schools have the supplies they need to start the new school year. The supplies’ total retail value was nearly $200,000.
The Army’s involvement in the annual program begins in July, when the Nehemiah Project starts delivering materials to the warehouse, said Alissa Best, volunteer coordinator for the Army in Chattanooga.
“They use our warehouse to store school supplies as they come in,” Best said. “We have a sorting day, July 30, when we sort through all the supplies; and on Aug. 11, we were one of the packing sites. We had about 100 volunteers at our East Lake Center packing 2,300 backpacks.”
“On Aug. 14, we delivered to four different schools from our site, and Salvation Army volunteers specifically went to East Lake Elementary School.”
Backpack Chattanooga was started in 2001 by David Parker, owner of the Covenant Transport trucking company, Kelley Andrews said. Andrews is coordinator of the Nehemiah Project, a group that falls under the umbrella of the Bethlehem Center of the United Methodist Church in Chattanooga.
Parker believed the city’s work pool was lacking, and the best way to address it was to start with young children in elementary school, “providing kids with the supplies they needed to do their schoolwork in hopes that with a love for learning, they’d come out of high school better able to work,” Andrews said.
The program has distributed more than 90,000 backpacks to date. It also helps youngsters understand “there are people outside their families and their immediate neighborhood who care about them and their education,” Andrews said.
Nehemiah’s partners in addition to The Salvation Army and Covenant Transport include about a halfdozen churches, the J103 Christian radio station, Sonic Drive-In and Top Flight Inc., a locally based school and office products manufacturer.
In addition to a 24-count pack of crayons and two glue sticks, each student gets a ruler, a pencil sharpener, a dozen No. 2 pencils, colored pencils and a pack of paper, Best said. “While we can’t physically deliver a Bible to every child, we leave New Testament children’s Bibles at the schools so the children can take one if they’d like to have one.”