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Event promises fun and free school supplies

Organizers of the annual Ashland Family Fun Fest say this year’s event will be the biggest one yet.

According to Tina Stevens, lead resource navigator at Ashland Community Resource Center, 550 free backpacks have been filled with all the school supplies students need for the year — ready to be handed out to anyone who needs one.

The event is scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, at First United Methodist Church, 175 N. Main St., Ashland.

Stevens said a multitude of community organizations and businesses came together to make this year’s event possible.

The Maslow Project had back-to-school supply lists for each grade level, and backpack-stuffers followed the lists as closely as possible. The packs for high school students even contain the scientific calculators required for them.

Rogue Community Health is offering a space for kids to receive free immunizations, as well as wellness, eye and dental checks. Students can receive sports physicals for $10. Kids can receive free haircuts too.

The Ashland Emergency Food Bank is catering a free taco bar at the event and supplying fresh fruits and vegetables.

ACCESS will have a booth teaching attendees how to prepare a healthful meal, which they can sample after.

The Oregon Health Plan will have a booth so parents can learn about various programs available to them and fill out applications.

Meanwhile kids will be able to play in the cardboard arcade space or get their faces painted.

ACRC Manager Leigh Madsen said event is offered by the community for the community.

“One of the things you see at the beginning of the school year is women and children lined up at the DHS office to get school supplies, and to me that seemed demeaning, so we wanted to make it a party,” Madsen said. “There’s bubbles and face painting and food and fun. This isn’t a place they stay in line for hours. It’s a fun time they can get engaged with.”

Each family is given a Bingo card when they walk in, which is stamped at every booth they visit. After nine stamps, they can turn it in and be entered in a drawing.

A prize will be given away about every 15 minutes, including gas cards, grocery store cards and toys.

Madsen said just under 20% of Ashland residents live at or below the federal poverty line, which is almost 5,000 people.

“So many families, during back-to-school time, can’t afford to get these things done for their kids, and it provides a service that is very much needed for people throughout the county,” Madsen said. “It’s a nice day for families to get these services without the stigma that is sometimes attached.”

Last year 200 backpacks were prepared, but 328 kids came to the event, Stevens said, so they’re trying to be more prepared this year.

“My hope is to exceed last year’s numbers,” Stevens said.

Madsen said he fully expects to run out of supplies by the end of the day.

Attendees will be asked what city they live in and what grade the child is going into. Stevens said last year 44% of attendees came from the Ashland/Talent area, 41% came from the Phoenix/Medford area and 15% came from surrounding areas such as Shady Cove and Eagle Point.

“We just want to get more families to come over — hopefully to learn about the services in our area and hopefully get a lot of free stuff,” Stevens said. “It’s a huge community event. The community pulls together so much to make this happen.”

OHRA board member Montye Male said almost all the supplies were donated. The Methodist Church donated the backpacks, and Umpqua Bank, Rogue Credit Union and Southern Oregon University donated supplies such as pens.

She said OHRA received a grant from All Care Health to cover most of the remaining school supplies. ACH also donated some solar calculators.

ACRC purchased whatever was needed after the donations came in. Stevens said Staples gave them a big discount for the school supplies.

“A picture of a family with their bookbags and tacos in hand — painted faces smiling — is a lot different than a picture of a family sitting in the DHS office for a few hours to get school supplies,” Madsen said. “It’s turned into a great party.

“Every child in the Rogue Valley deserves to go to school prepared,” Madsen said. “This is the only time we serve the whole Rogue Valley, and we don’t want anybody to be excluded.”

For more information, call ACRC at 541-631-2235.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Kids play corn hole at a previous Ashland Family Fun Fest where they can receive school supplies and win prizes. This year's Fun Fest is Friday, Aug. 16 at the First United Methodist Church. Photo courtesy of Ashland Community Resource Center.{ }
Fresh fruits and vegetables from the Ashland Emergency Food Bank offered at a past OHRA Family Fun Fest. Similar offerings are available at this year's event plus a free taco bar. Photo courtesy of Options for Helping Residents of Ashland.{ }