Back to School Help Fair helps many start new year right

Cordell Vaughn is all smiles after being handed a bag to begin collecting school supplies during the annual Back to School Fair Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, at First Baptist Church in Quincy. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Aug. 9, 2014 5:24 pm Updated: Aug. 23, 2014 6:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Alycin Marshall was so eager on Saturday morning that she was ready to head directly into the classroom after taking part in the 16th annual Back To School Help Fair.

"I miss math," the 11-year-old Alycin said after she and four of her siblings worked their way through the various lines inside and around First Baptist Church in Quincy. "I got a new bookbag."

Alycin was one of more than 1,000 children who benefitted from the event. Kids walked away with school supplies, backpacks, clothes and haircuts. Quincy Public School buses took children to the Adams County Health Department for immunizations and dental exams for those in need.

Marshall and her family, of Canton, Mo., thought they were going to be one of the first in line, arriving at the church by 6 a.m.

"We thought we would be on the lawn," said Alycin's mother, Annie Tournear.

Instead, the family wound up in line on a Seventh Street sidewalk. The earliest of the early birds wound up getting to the church before 11 p.m. Friday night. The Rev. Orville Jones, pastor of First Baptist Church and one of the event organizers, says it was the first time he can remember anyone camping out to take part in the fair.

"I think it is indicative of the need and the severity of the need," Jones said. "They're thinking ‘as quickly as I can get in and get what I need.' Some of them have to have physicals, so they are here early so they can get in and get through. To me, it just says ‘we really need this service.'"

Brianna Nixon, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Quincy Junior High School, hopped in line at 7:45 a.m. with her mother and two brothers. Nixon didn't even mind missing a little bit of sleep Saturday morning to go stand in line.

"We get to get our bookbags," Brianna said with a smile.

Nixon and her family took the bus to get to the fair. Nixon's mother, Amy Tkach, said her children wouldn't be able to get everything they need for the upcoming school year without a trip through the fair.

"With us being on a tight budget, this helps a lot by getting school supplies and other things the kids really need," Tkach said.

For a good part of the three-hour window the fair was open, the line stretched out of the back of the church and to almost a block away.

Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore was one of the dozens of volunteers who worked at the fair.

"This shows how willing people are to pitch in and help," Moore said. "When the city of Quincy sees a need, it seems like everyone is there to help."

Jones said more than 20 churches helped collect bookbags to distribute.

"This is the greatest amalgamation of Quincy," Jones said. "The churches, the community centers, the agencies are all working together."

After people picked up school supplies outside, kids were able to go inside the church to pick out their bookbags. The bookbags were sorted by grade level and each was stuffed with items for that particular grade.

Makayla Andrews, a fourth-grader at Baldwin South, was happy that she had arrived early enough to pick out a purple bookbag. Purple is her favorite color.

"I also liked getting some new clothes," Makayla said.

The smiles many children had as they left the church made the months of planning worth it for Jones.

"There are so many people being served, and it's great to see the joy on the faces of some of the kids as they're getting clothes that they didn't have before," Jones said. "They're getting their hair cut and you can just see that they appreciate the services."

A second phase of the Back To School Fair will be in January, Jones said. Nurses in the various Quincy schools will work with organizers to identify children who are in need during the winter months.

Jones said planning for the fair is a year-round proposition. Next month, organizers will meet to take a look at this year's event and start laying the groundwork for next year.