It’s only mid-July but you can bet families in Blount County already are thinking in terms of back to school and how to pay for supplies.
It can be costly to purchase new backpacks, shoes, writing supplies and other necessities, Kristina Killebrew said. That’s why her church, RIO Revolution in Maryville, began an outreach ministry back in 2008 called Helping Hands.
“Two members of our church had the vision back in March 2008 to help underprivileged children and their families in Blount County,” she said. “With that first year and a couple of months of planning, we were able to impact a small amount of people. Last year, we were able to help 8,250 local children and families.”
Helping Hands 2019 will take place from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, July 20, at Heritage High School. Everything that will be handed out is 100% free, Killebrew said. That includes diapers, backpacks with supplies, new socks and new underwear, along with gently used clothing. Families who register on Rio Revolution’s website, riorevolution.com, can receive free sneakers. Only Blount County families can qualify to receive the new shoes; everything else is handed out on a first-come, first-served basis.
In 2018, this ministry was able to give out 1,605 pairs of shoes, 50,000 diapers, 2,250 backpacks loaded with supplies, 9,000 pairs of new socks, 4,000 pairs of new underwear and 450 boxes of food. That included 1,500 pounds of ground beef. In addition, 65 children received bicycles, and local hair stylists gave 238 free haircuts on-site. A total of 1,500 bags of gently used clothing was distributed, too.
A community comes together
Killebrew is quick to point out that partners have come onboard to help make this successful. Businesses and individuals have donated monetarily and also provide free games and prizes. Some, like the hair stylists and manicurists, come and provide free services.
This weekend at RIO Revolution, an offering will be taken up to support this annual event. Killebrew said they also are collecting diapers and wipes, which can be dropped off at the church anytime.
“Our goal is to always have vendors on-site providing free games, free giveaways and free prizes,” Killebrew said. “Anything to tie in to families in need.”
Lunch will be served to those in attendance as well, also free of charge.
It is estimated the value of what’s given away amounts to more than $150,000.
HHS was chosen as the site because of its ability to handle large outdoor crowds. Killebrew said people will be lined up way before the 8 a.m. start time. She said they will be there until everyone gets served.
It takes close to 500 volunteers to help on this special day of serving, Killebrew said. She said the mix of people is RIO members and then others in Blount County who see a need and want to help meet it. There is always a need for more, she pointed out. Those who wish to volutneer or provide services also can go to the RIO Revolution website.
Choosing this time of year was intentional. RIO Revolution and the Helping Hands founders knew back-to-school time is financially stressful, especially in families with more than one child. Killebrew said the makeup of families is very different today.
“Families look different than they used to,” she said. “You now have a lot of grandparents trying to figure out how to raise one, two or even four of their grandchildren. It means a lot when these children get to go and pick out their own new shoes. They walk away with new socks and shoes and their heads held high. Kids want the best just like we do.”
Each year, Killebrew said they look at how to make the event even better. This year, diapers have been added to the giveaway items, she said, because they answered a need. This planner said they will continue to reach out as long as there are those seeking help.
“We see Blount County and East Tennessee as our backyard and our mission field,” Killebrew explained.