After walking through the cafetorium doors at Crothersville Community Schools, a woman and her two grandchildren were greeted with a smile by Tiffany Reynolds.
She took Madison Boxell, a first grader, and her brother, Jaxon, a preschooler, to a table with stacks of backpacks to pick out one that caught their eye. Madison quickly chose a pink one with rainbows and stars on it, while Jaxon took a blue one with sharks on it.
Then they made their way to the cafeteria tables, where stacks of new and gently used clothing were available to browse.
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At one point, Reynolds told Madison to close her eyes. “Are you ready?” Reynolds asked her before telling her to look. When Madison saw a sparkly mint green skirt, she screamed with excitement.
In the end, Madison and her grandmother, Tish Boxell, had five plastic grocery bags full of clothing for her to wear this school year.
The backpacks and clothing the children selected were all free, thanks to the generosity of The Helping Hearts initiative led by Reynolds that involved gathering donations from the community.
Plus, when the kids started school Thursday, they were given free school supplies that also were donated.
“That’s amazing. That is tremendous,” Tish said when she realized school supplies also were going to be provided to all Crothersville students. “I think it’s a wonderful way to reach out and help.”
Boxell said her daughter is on her own buying things for Madison and Jaxon.
“My daughter does a good job of keeping up with everything. We help her, but she mainly does it herself,” Tish said. “She wasn’t even going to (send the kids to The Helping Hearts event). I said, ‘Yeah, we are’ because they don’t get out a lot. They go shopping with their mom once in a great while.”
Once she saw the kids’ excitement when they picked out their backpacks, Tish knew it was a good idea.
“That’s why I’ve got them here. I knew they would. I like to make them happy,” she said.
The Boxells were among the more than 40 people who stopped by during the eight-hour event Monday night. Along with picking out backpacks and clothing, students and their families visited tables set up with representatives sharing information about local resources.
While talking to people at the event, Reynolds said she could see the impact it made.
“Oh, it’s huge,” she said. “The community really came together with donations, and not only people from Crothersville, people from outside of our community.”
Right after the 2018-19 school year ended in May, some school supplies were donated before a large donation from Brownstown Church of Christ finished off the elementary school’s supply list.
Reynolds then wanted to provide school supplies to the junior-senior high school, too, and that happened with donations from individuals, businesses, industries and organizations. Four businesses conducted backpack drives, and Jackson County United Way donated some.
Reynolds wound up with enough backpacks for 450 kids, which is way more than Crothersville needs. The ones left over from Monday’s event were placed in the school’s Community Closet to take as needed.
“Hopefully, after school starts, the teachers will be able to see what students need new backpacks or if they don’t have one be able to give them some,” Reynolds said.
There also was a lot of leftover clothing. The baby clothing was donated to the Clothes Cottage in town, while the rest of the clothing was placed in the Community Closet to be sorted. Students can go in that room at any time during the school day and get clothing, personal hygiene products, food and other basic needs.
“There were several students who had already bought their backpacks and their parents were just here for the clothes,” Reynolds said. “It was nice because we had clothes for everybody that was in the family. Even Mom and Dad were able to pick up stuff, and that was pretty amazing. For the kids to be able to have a choice of what they picked out was huge.”
For Reynolds, the best part of the event was the thanks she received from people.
“Everybody has been so thankful, which has made all of the hard work and time that we put in worth it,” she said. “Just to think about what we put into it as far as just getting the community excited about being able to give and to help, that was very nice to know that our community does support the kids here.”
Shawn Blanton was among the grateful parents. He helped his son, Shawn Blanton Jr., pick out a backpack and some clothing to be ready to start preschool.
“My wife saw it on Facebook, and then she told me they were giving stuff away,” he said. “It helps us out because we’ve got two older boys also. Then we’ve also got a younger baby at home, so money is kind of tight. It helps out.”
For a first-time event, Reynolds said she was happy with the turnout.
“It has been good, and I think that we will learn from the experiences that we ran across this year and make it that much better next year,” she said. “We’ve talked about doing it again, and people were asking as they were leaving, ‘Are you going to do it again next year?’ I think that it was very well-received.”
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For information about The Helping Hearts, search for the group on Facebook.