KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
July 31, 2019
By Stephen Greenwell Jr.
As summer vacation winds down, local community outreach group Compassion Katy is making sure thousands of students start school with the supplies they need. The group hosts Operation Back 2 School this Saturday, August 3 at the Leonard E. Merrell Center from 8:00 am - 4:00 pm.
The effort by Compassion Katy has grown exponentially in just three years of operation. The initial Operation Back 2 School supported about 350 students in 2017, about 3,300 students in 2018. This year, the projected total is close to 7,000.
However, Compassion Katy Executive Director Sue Hetrick said the group prefers to measure their impact by how many Title I schools they serve – this year, all 17 in the Katy Independent School District – as opposed to the number of children at the event.
“Because of the people we help, and their transportation issues and living arrangements, just because 7,000 are invited doesn't mean they're showing up on the day,” Hetrick says, adding that the group will continue to deliver goods to area students and schools after August 3.
“Our goal is when this under-resourced student leaves Operation Back 2 School, they are fully equipped," says Hetrick. "They have access to clothing, dental, vision, immunizations, and they have a backpack and their school supplies - everything they need for a successful school year.”
A Year-Long Effort
Hetrick said that planning for this year's Operation Back 2 School began shortly after last year's event concluded. Collection boxes for backpacks, supplies and other items have been at local businesses and restaurants. Volunteers will spend most of Friday at the center to setup.
“It's so much more than just giving children school supplies,” Hetrick says of the event. “We collaborate. While this is Compassion Katy's event, we couldn't do it without our 500 volunteers and all the non-profits.”
Compassion Katy also offers an option on their website to sponsor a student for a $50 donation.
Supplies, Health Checks, Vouchers Available
Hetrick said students are invited to the event by school guidance counselors on a need-basis. The first thing they'll see when they enter the Merrell Center is an array of backpacks, in all sizes, shapes and colors, “as if they were shopping in a store.” From there, the children and their parents can acquire clothing and food vouchers from local businesses, small gifts from non-profits, and vital health check-ups from area physicians, dentists and optometrists.
Fun Awaits Outside
As students exit the center, they will have the opportunity to meet area first responders – police officers, firefighters, paramedics and others – as well as costumed superheroes and Disney princesses for photo opportunities. There will also be prayer circles and information about after-school and Sunday School programs offered by area churches, a hot dog stand offered by Grace Fellowship Church, and a supply truck for area teachers to stock up at as well.
Chick-fil-A Continues to Sponsor
Hetrick identified Chick-fil-A as an important sponsor for Compassion Katy and Operation Back 2 School, noting that they had increased their efforts as the event has grown. Amy Lehr, a spokesperson for the Mason Road, Cinco Ranch and Katy Green stores, confirmed that the Katy Mills and Morton Ranch stores would also be collecting goods for this year's event.
“We jumped on board the first year of Operation Back 2 School where only the families and students from Sundown Elementary received school supplies,” Lehr says. “We saw how remarkable of an event the distribution was, and knew we wanted to be more involved and contribute more the next year."
Lehr said they came up with Christmas in July to bring more awareness. They posted Christmas trees in their restaurants and rewarded guests for turning in school supplies.
"Our guests loved helping those in our local community for a cause that they could see in the schools,” Leher says.
Volunteer Opportunities, Sponsorships Still Available
While most of the volunteer spots are filled for this year's event, there are still openings for the setup day and prayer circles on the day of. Compassion Katy also accepts sponsorship donations for students year-round. For more information about the group or this year's event, or to sign-up, visit their website.