MARION – Asking a child to start school without supplies is like asking a carpenter to build a house without tools. Paper and crayons, rulers and backpacks, should never be reserved only for students who can afford them. These materials are essential in helping to lay the foundation for a good education.
Black Diamond Harley-Davidson in Marion, along with several other area sponsors, made sure back-to-school items were available for hundreds of children who attended Saturday’s giveaway at the motorcycle dealership. This year marked the ninth year BDHD has organized and hosted the event.
One of the key sponsors lending a helping hand was Mississippi River Radio.
General Manager Steve Falat was one of many volunteers from the radio group who lined up behind a long row of tables, passing out supplies to excited kids and their parents.
“The line is usually steady for a couple of hours,” Falat said, as a crowd of people moved through the warehouse. He says it’s the looks on the children’s faces that he enjoys most.
“The kids just light up. They’re so appreciative and that makes it so worthwhile,” he said. “Partnering with these great businesses – Black Diamond, Krispy Kreme — it’s just phenomenal.”
Another volunteer worker from River Radio, WJPF news director Tom Miller, said he also looks forward to the event every year.
“Out of all the things we do, this is the most gratifying,” Miller said, adding that he was especially pleased with the healthcare component of the event, which included free dental exams.
School supplies were plentiful. No-cost haircuts were also an option, along with hotdogs, doughnuts, and the thrill of a clown and bounce house, all provided at no charge.
Live music was a big attraction, too.
Tegan Marie, a 13-year-old rising star in the country music profession from Michigan, sang and played guitar to a very receptive audience outside the warehouse. The free concert was made possible by Pepsi Mid-America in Marion. Her pitstop in Southern Illinois was but one of six stops on her “Walmart Back To School Jam” tour that also included Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
“I’ve been singing since I was about 3 years old. My Dad got me started. He posted my first-ever video. It’s still on Youtube.”
Marie said she never expected to become so popular so fast.
“I want to make a career out of singing,” she said. “So far, everything that’s happened to me has been life changing. I’ve been really stoked for these performances.”
Marie hinted at a record deal that is coming her way. She said she doesn’t pattern herself after any specific performer.
“I admire a lot of people, but I just try to be myself and have fun with it. Country is my thing,” the teen said.
Herrin residents Tabitha Marz and daughter, Paige, 11, were among those enjoying Marie’s spirited performance.
“It’s the first time we’re hearing her. She’s great,” Tabitha said. “I like everything,” Paige added.
Marion native Vicki Lewis attended the gathering, along with son, Dylan, 12, and daughter, Sara, 9. Vicki was impressed by the size of the event and aware of the behind-the-scenes effort involved.
“It’s definitely a good thing for a lot of people around here. We’re struggling, so it really helps us out. They have food, a bounce house — the kids had a blast!”
Lewis remembers a time when such help was harder to find.
“People didn’t go out of the way to make big events to provide school supplies, she said. “My mom was a single parent like I am and she really could have used it. Here, they even gave us a $ 5 voucher for the The Salvation Army for clothes, and coupons for restaurants.”
Lewis said it was the first time they had attended the event.
BDHD marketing assistant John Quigley confirmed Monday morning that about 2,000 backpacks had been given away, and nearly 3,000 people were in attendance. He praised several sponsors, including The Salvation Army, Krispy Kreme, Culver’s, Hot Heads Salon, Dental Safari, Pepsi, and the many private donors, churches and others who contributed.
“This was a success — absolutely,” he said. “We got rid of every backpack we had on hand. We appreciate all the support the community gave us. The goal was to get as many school supplies out to the community as possible.”
Quigley said the 10th backpack giveaway is already in the works.
“As of today, we plan on doing it next year. Hopefully, we can make it bigger and better. We will do something, that’s for sure.”
Managing Editor John Homan contributed to the story.