Last week, another Fill the Bus event helped Wilson County Schools meet the needs of many underprivileged students and their families.
Fill the Bus is a semi-annual event jointly organized by Mt. Juliet's Family Resource Center and the Kiwanis Club of Mt. Juliet. It's entirely volunteer based, tasking volunteers with manning the front of the Mt. Juliet Walmart near Providence Mall to ask customers as they enter and leave the Walmart to donate needed items to the underprivileged children and families of Wilson County Schools, particularly with a focus on Mt. Juliet.
Lebanon has a Family Resource Center as well, which cooperates closely with that of Mt. Juliet, and Fill the Bus is one of several events intended to meet these needs for students countywide. Wilson County
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Schools give them a list of items that are particularly needed, which often includes gloves, coats, toiletries, nonperishable foods and myriad other such items.
Principals and teachers often reach out to the Family Resource Centers to inform of them of specific needs for families at their schools as well. In July and November each year, Fill the Bus takes one school bus, which they color green, and they park it at the Mt. Juliet Walmart to literally fill the bus with needed items. Goods are subsequently taken to the county Board of Education's Administrative Training Complex.
Anne Barger has been the Pre-K, Parenting and Family Resource Coordinator for Wilson County Schools since 2015, and she's also a member of Mt. Juliet's Kiwanis Club. She describes their responsibility as doing "what we can to support students and families and reduce any barriers that might prevent kids from succeeding in school academically and socially."
Fill the Bus is a quintessential example of that responsibility. According to Barger, though, the Family Resource Center brings in just shy of $30,000 from the state via grants, but "those dollars would not even be able to touch the needs that we've got" because of the sheer quantity of people in need. As such, there are lots of programs and events that collectively meet those needs.
For the first time since taking her position as coordinator, Barger was unable to attend this Fill the Bus event due to sickness. Kandi McElhannon, however, was another Kiwanis Club member intimately involved in the event last week. She described the event as something that could make anyone whose heart isn't made of stone tear up.
McElhannon choked back tears to mention a gentleman, his wife and their son who had been unexpectedly gotten food from the county when they fell on hard times, and when they saw the big, green bus outside Walmart as they were entering the store, he asked what they were doing.
"And I told him. I said, 'This is the backpack program.' I explained it to him, and she goes, 'This is what our child had to use when you and I were both out of work and where they kept putting the food in his backpack.' And he just sat there and said, 'Please don't leave until we get back.'" McElhannon said he asked what they needed most at the moment, which was underwear, and he went back in the store, returning with copious packs of underwear and nonperishable food.
Barger said that Wilson County is one of the many places blessed with means and abundant resources juxtaposed with poverty. She expressed being in awe of how many people in Wilson County not only have the ability to give but also give rather willingly, and it's particularly necessary because of how much need there is about which many in the county are sometimes unaware.
"As fortunate as Wilson County is," she said, "there are quite a few people in Wilson County who struggle." Barger sits on the committee for Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto's Homelessness Coalition. "There are quite a few homeless. We've got just under 500 kids identified as homeless" in the county.
Barger added that Superintendent Donna Wright initiated what are called faith community meetings, which draws churches like Joy Church International and Compassionate Hands together to discuss the needs of the school system. There's also a Family Advisory Council meeting that occurs twice a year to help deal with these issues.