By Dave Rogers

For The Record

A grass roots event that’s been a Godsend to many of the county’s economically disadvantaged schoolchildren returns 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 5, to Lamar State College-Orange Student Center.

It’s called “Back To School Orange County” and the fifth edition will include free school supplies, immunizations, eye screenings, haircuts.

“We want every child to have a fair start to school,” said  Butch Campbell, Director of Security and External Affairs at LSC-O and one of eight board members for the interfaith group that puts on the annual event.

“There’s 40-something groups passing out stuff from booths. It looks like Christmas at the door as they walk out:

“Mamas are crying, grandmas are crying, volunteers are crying. The kids are smiling.”

Supplies are limited so students will be served on a first come, first served basis, but you may preregister from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today and Thursday (July 19-20) at Orange Christian Services, 2518 West Park Rd., and from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday (July 22) at LSC-O, 407 Green Ave.

Limited registration will continue on the day of the event. All parents or legal guardians must be present with children and bring proof of child’s enrollment in an Orange County school – a student ID, report card, or letter from school.

The immunizations are provided by VaxANation for all children pre-K to 18 years of age.

Vaccinations are free to students with CHIP and/or Medicaid. Students must have valid card present at day of the event; otherwise the cost is $14 for the first vaccination and $10 for each additional vaccination per child.

Campbell has been associated with the event since its second year, the first at LSC-O.

“This began with one church and they held it out in the park in the August heat,” he said. “They were able to serve 400 to 500 folks in seven hours.

“We go through 1,000 [students] now in 2 and a half hours; everybody gets what they need. And it’s air-conditioned down here at beautiful Lamar State College-Orange.”

Campbell says that over five years, the event has provided 4,580 kits of school supplies.

Annual expenses include $15,000 to buy 1,000 school supply kits.

More than 700 volunteers have donated their time and effort to the cause.

“We depend strictly on donations,” said Campbell, the current Man of the Year for the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce. “This thing was primarily a church organization when it started. We have branched out to corporate sponsors from every walk of life in Orange County.

“We depend on all the churches, organizations like the Lions Club, anyone and anybody who want to help us make our goal.”

Back To School Orange County has morphed a bit over the years to enlarge its group of donors and volunteers but it hasn’t lost its Christian roots.

Campbell said that in April 2016, when a flood destroyed most of the structures in nearby Deweyville, Back To School board members decided to donate all the money they’d raised for the 2016 Back To School event to the Deweyville schools to restock their library with books.

But they managed a 2016 event anyway – thanks to some unexpected donations.

“We did what we thought was right and we told everybody [donors] what we’d done,” Campbell recalled. “It put us in a hole. We were worried where our money would come from.

“But somehow, the Good Lord provided.

“Three weeks out from our event, we had no money to pay for school supplies. By the day of the event, the good Lord had blessed us with a $14,000 surplus.”

Any leftover or unclaimed school supplies are sent to schools “in case somebody shows up without supplies,” Campbell said.

“Nothing goes to waste.”

In addition to donations, the event’s volunteers also hold fundraisers during the year.

One such event is Friday (July 21) at Sabine River Ford. Hot links dinner will be available at the Green Avenue dealership from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., on sale for $5, or in exchange for loose school supplies valued at $5 or more.