More than 1,000 Athens County students flocked to The Market on State mall in Athens last Thursday with their families to receive a bevy of free items and services to help prepare the children for their first day back at school later this month.
At one point during the “Back to School Bash,” the line of parents and caregivers with their children stretched from the former Elder-Beerman storefront out the door of The Market on State, yet nobody got turned away, according to Athens County Job & Family Services Director Jean Demosky.
She said that all of the students who showed up to the event – even those who weren’t pre-registered – received free book bags, school supplies, shorts, a food box, health and toiletry items, a free meal and a free haircut. The 916 students who registered for the event in addition received a free pair of Nike shoes and a T-shirt with their school district’s logo on it (234 walk-in student families had not registered, according to Demosky). She added that all students were eligible for these free services, regardless of their family’s income level.
This first-of-its-kind event resulted from a partnership between Athens County Job & Family Services, the Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action agency and Athens County Children Services. Demosky said the mission of the event simple: “To help children who need help.”
Trimble resident Rhonda Holbrook attended the event Thursday to help get her two grandchildren, ages 5 and 9, ready for school at Trimble Local Schools.
“It’s extremely helpful because getting all the school supplies… I mean, the school list this year, it was just unbelievable all the stuff they needed,” she said.
She added that it’s become increasingly difficult over the years for small local families like hers to make ends meet, especially when it falls on the grandparent to raise their grandchildren.
Another local grandmother, Vicki Barron of Nelsonville, brought her three grandchildren to the event. She said the event was very helpful for her. Eric Grayson Barron, 5, was happy about his haircut, showing off for this reporter’s camera.
Jenny Daubenmire, an instructor for the adult cosmetology class at Tri-County Career Center in Nelsonville, was present during the event as many of her students volunteered to provide the free haircuts (although other local salons also provided volunteers).
“I think it’s an amazing thing because it’s important that they learn to give back to the community… (These) students might not have gotten a haircut (otherwise) because of the prices,” she said.
The event was such a hit with families that Demosky said her agency is already starting a fundraising drive for next year. Anyone interested in donating or otherwise helping out with that drive can go to jfs.athensoh.org. She added that roughly $14,000 was donated this year to help make this event happen, and she thanked the many partner organizations that had set up booths all along the former Elder Beerman storefront (many groups and agencies participated, including the Athens County Public Library system, the Athens County Sheriff’s Office and Athens County’s Board of Developmental Disabilities). She also thanked owners of The Market on State for providing space for the event.
State Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, donated hundreds of backpacks with school supplies in them (Demosky estimated around 400 or 500 of them) to the event, which were available even for students who weren’t registered. Edwards did not respond to an emailed request for comment sent Friday. The NEWS obtained an expenditure report from the Ohio Secretary of State’s website showing that the Edwards campaign’s fundraising group, Friends of Jay Edwards, spent roughly $6,300 last year (in late July) to buy book bags from an online retailer (it was listed as a “school supply donation” on the report).
The event coincided with the first day of operation for the new Athens Public Transit bus line that connects Nelsonville, Albany and Athens (rides were free for all users that day).