It wasn’t quite a golden ticket to hang out with Willy Wonka, but about 500 kids and parents attended Saturday’s Back to School Back Pack Giveaway at Carson Park for a special ticket.
Children had to be present to receive back packs, and there were free hot dogs, water slides, a fire truck, and booths with fun activities and free books.
New Life Church started the event, which celebrated 10 years this weekend.
Event Coordinator Kyla Lundberg reminded the crowd, which was lined up for the event, that everyone had to have a ticket to get a back pack. The event started at 6 p.m. with back packs given away at 7 p.m.
“Be sure to check your back pack for a door prize ticket,” Lundberg announced through a megaphone.
Lundberg said it’s a community event.
“We want people to feel ownership of the event. We want our kids to know we care about them and their education. These kids are going to be our future, so we want to invest in them,” said Lundberg. “Most of our schools are represented. We wanted the kids to see their school represented.”
As people passed through the entrance, a ticket was given for each student. Free hot dogs were handed out with bottles of water and chips.
Braicee Ketcher, 8, and siblings Hadlee, 6, and Jaycee, 6, with twins and brother Braden, 4, smiled as servers put mustard or ketchup on their hot dogs.
Mom Maryann Ketcher said they came two years ago and are glad the event has returned.
“Everything’s calmed down, so we came out to let the kids enjoy it. And it’s helpful with the back packs, since the car payment and electric bill takes up so much of our money. We’re enjoying the hot dogs,” Ketcher said.
Charla Small brought her kids to the event, and Jacob and R.J. were ready to eat their hot dogs.
“We came to get out of the house and for the kids to enjoy some of the things this community has to offer,” Small said.
She has four kids and getting back packs is very helpful.
“Back packs are getting very expensive, $20 per back pack, and times four, that’s lots of money,” Small said.
It the second year for Laura Sanders to volunteer with her church. She and friend Stephanie Deason, a volunteer for four years, were putting condiments on hot dogs.
“It’s all about the kids,” Sanders said.
At the big, red fire truck with an American flag hoisted above the crowd, Tiffany Murray took pictures of son Aiden Ketcher, 5, sitting in the vehicle.
“We came for the back pack, and Aiden wants to be a fireman,” said Murry.
Stilwell firefighter Tony Worley talked to the youth about the fire truck and asked if he wanted to be a fireman. Aiden nodded shyly.
“I’m here with the fire department and the church. We always come out and put the flag out,” Worley said.
October is Fire Safety Month, he added.
“We hand out plastic helmets and stickers and usually give them a ride on the firetruck. I put gear on in front of them and let them come over the feel of it. We want them to not be afraid of the gear,” said Worley.
Kids were happy sliding down the inflatable slides, having their faces painted, and playing games like bean bag toss.
Nico Black, 7, had his face painted like a tiger.
“He’s excited for the water slide,” said his mom, Keisha Black. “We came to have fun. He doesn’t need a back pack but we wanted to come. He wants to share his with a cousin; they don’t have much school supplies.”
Hadlee Denny dollar skated through bubbles that were blowing across the crowd between vendors. She was helping her mom, Heather Denny, Stilwell High School librarian.
“We get to see our kids and give them treats. We haven’t seen them all summer. This gets them pumped up for the school year. It’s going to be a good year,” Denny said.
At the Stilwell Library booth, Rachele Horney stood behind a table filled with paperback books she was giving away, along with color changing pencils.
“We’re here to participate in community and be part off the Back to School Back Pack Giveaway,” Horney said.
Oranges were given away by Harps’ Jeana Martinez, produce manager.
“We’re promoting our produce. We do a Saturday giveaway, ‘Produce for Kids,’ and want people to know about it,” said Martinez.