Vehicles wrapped around Fun Forest Park on Thursday afternoon as families took part in the ninth annual School is Cool drive-thru event by the Tyler Business Education Council.
The event offered 2,000 backpacks filled with school supplies sponsored by UT Tyler, and donations by the local community who helped raise $50,000 for the event supplies that were given for free during the event.
Attendees were handed a backpack and big smile by a Tyler Junior College football player or a volunteer from local organizations.
Amir McGruder, Tyler Junior College football player, just moved to Tyler a month ago and was excited to give back to local families. During the event along with his teammates, he greeted families and kids with encouragement for the upcoming school year.
“Today was amazing, everybody has had situations when they needed a helping hand or anything to help in any type of situation they’re in. I know I have, so being on the other side and being able to give and be a smile for a young kid and show them that things can be OK felt amazing,” he said.
McGruder mentioned this was his first time doing an event like this, which brought him a lot of joy.
“Giving them the things and tools that they need to succeed in school, that was amazing and it was my first time ever doing that, it was definitely a good experience,” he said. “My day brightened up when I saw the smiles, laughs and having handshakes with the kids and seeing that I made their day, that was definitely the best part.”
Leanne Robinette, director of parks and recreation for Tyler, said the first car arrived at 2 p.m., three and a half hours before the event kicked off. She also said for the first time, the event ran out of backpacks.
“We did it last year with the drive-thru and this was the second year in a row with the TJC football team helping, and with their help we were able to get the cars quicker, which always makes it easier. We had a lot of additional volunteers that showed up to help with UT Tyler and several other organizations. Between everyone with all hands on deck, I think we were able to get through all the vehicles a lot quicker this year and we also ran out for the first time,” she said.
Throughout the years the annual event has increased from hundreds of backpacks to 2,000 which has been the “safe mark” for a few years, said Robinette. But since some families left without a backpack this year, she mentioned that the committee will have to rethink the number for next year’s event.
Robinette said the yearly event is a special event hosted by the Tyler Business Education Council, which is a nonprofit funded by local community members who help make a difference for local families.
“Any kind of positive impact that you can leave in the community is great and to know that the community, donors and sponsors are the ones that made this happen makes this a feel good event for everyone involved. On top of that, you have all these children that will start school with supplies and a brand new backpack and have confidence in their first day and feeling prepared and ready for the school year,” she said.