“We’d love for you to come!” I was on the phone with Marissa Wentling, Fort Benning’s 2018 Spouse of the Year and the Operation Homefront volunteer in charge of organizing the Back-to-School Brigade® at Fort Benning, Georgia. Mrs. Wentling was telling me that Operation Homefront’s Area Manager, Elizabeth Scott, was set to receive donated school supplies from Operation Homefront’s partners the next day. The Back-to-School Brigade is Operation Homefront’s annual nationwide school supply collection and distribution campaign, passing out backpacks filled with school supplies to military children across the country.
Mrs. Wentling indicated that Walmart, along with other sponsors and organizations donating materials, would be bringing “a truck” and officially hand off the donated materials to Ms. Scott the following afternoon. She gave me the address of the Georgia Army National Guard Armory, located just outside Atlanta, Georgia, where the presentation of materials would take place. Upon arriving at the Armory, I noticed several people in navy blue shirts also walking toward a large building. We approached the building—a hangar—from the back. When I rounded the corner and could see inside, I was met with an overwhelming sight: the hangar was nearly full of school supplies! Collection boxes had been placed at local Walmart stores, and the community had donated supplies generously. Pallets holding overflowing donation boxes were arranged on the floor of the hangar with walking room in between, as over a hundred people in navy blue–Walmart employee volunteers–scurried among them. Most volunteers were sorting supplies, while a handful of others moved the full boxes and pallets aside and brought in empty boxes to be filled. Apparently, this sort effort was unprecedented, and more volunteers were quickly mobilized to fill the need.
I rolled up my sleeves and joined the volunteers, who were cheerfully sorting, organizing, and stacking the materials. Despite the heat, every volunteer was smiling and working with amazing speed, getting sweatier and dirtier by the minute. The community had shown up for military kids in a big way, and the volunteers were overjoyed to be a part of the enormous effort to get the materials into the hands of Operation Homefront for distribution to military families throughout the state.
By midday, the hangar had been cleared, and tons of school supplies had been sorted and were waiting pick up. Mrs. Wentling, as well as volunteers from other military bases in Georgia, were furiously organizing the vehicles intended to transport the school supplies back to base. Volunteers were taking a much-needed break. Just then it was announced 36 more pallets would be delivered after lunch!
All summer long, the Tutor.com/military team has been attending these Back-to-School Brigades, but to see firsthand how all those backpacks come together, and the massive efforts from the community and Operation Homefront, was humbling. Sometimes, when passing a collection box in a store, it is easy to be skeptical and wonder if donations actually make it to the intended recipients or even make a difference. It was an honor to witness what a difference these contributions make, and to be a part of a community coming together for military kids. We wish all military students the best of luck at school this year, especially as many of them start at a new location!
-Kara Froman, Senior Program Manager, Military & Federal Programs