Hundreds of youngsters and adults lined up Saturday in the sweltering heat for the fifth annual Back 2 School Giveaway at the Crosland Park Playground in Aiken.
The chain of patiently waiting humans was so long it extended way down Aldrich Street. Vehicles filled nearly every available place to park nearby.
“I do this out of love,” said the event’s founder and coordinator, Darlene Stewart, who owns D’Vine Creations, a local catering and event business.
“I have love for the Crosland Park neighborhood,” she continued. “I raised my four kids here and my stepdaughter. I want people see something good come out of this community. You hear of shootings here, and I just want people to know that there are some kids that will make it out and make it out in a good way. They won’t be products of their environment.”
The students and students-to-be who attended received backpacks filled with school supplies.
“There is a huge need here,” Stewart. “A lot of people in this area don’t work. Hopefully when these children graduate from high school, they’ll say, ‘I remember Miss Darlene. I remember she gave me school supplies. Without her, I wouldn’t have had them.’”
In addition to school supplies being distributed, hotdogs, chips and drinks were served. Attendees also could get free books.
A deejay provided the music.
Children could play in a bounce house, and there was an inflatable pool for toddlers.
A basketball tournament also was held.
“I want this to be a family event,” said Stewart, who welcomed everyone with the help of a microphone. “Yesterday, I rode around Crosland Park. I had fliers that I gave out to the kids that I saw walking up and down the street or playing on the basketball court. I said, ‘Go tell your moms.’”
The Back 2 School Giveaway began at 11 a.m. and ended at 3:30 p.m.
Stewart estimated that 600 to 700 people would show up before the event started winding down.
“The kids have so much fun that they don’t want to leave when it’s over,” she said.
When Stewart founded the Back 2 School Giveaway, it was, for the most part, a one-woman operation.
“There was only one sponsor, the Chandler Law Firm,” she said. “My children and I purchased everything else. The second year, we got two more sponsors, Space Walk of Aiken and Portable Services.”
The list of businesses that support the Back 2 School Giveaway is much longer now. Individuals in the Aiken area and Augusta donate school supplies.
Among the volunteers assisting Stewart on Saturday were her grown children – Clarence Green, Tanishia Green, Kem Stewart and Raveen Walker.
“They are a huge part of this,” Stewart said.
Stewart’s stepdaughter, Latrice Shell, made donations to the cause.
“She’s a nurse and she had to work, so she couldn’t be here,” Stewart said.
Kiara McCarroll brought her two children, Ja'Kean, 6, and Jai'Vion, 3, to the Back 2 School Giveaway.
"I love it," she said. "I enjoy meeting new people and seeing my kids interact with other kids."
McCarroll also appreciated the book bags her children received.
"I'm a single parent, so this helps a lot," she said.