SPARTA — The line of hundreds of people snaked around the parking lot of the White County Fairgrounds building here and into the road beside the building on this Saturday morning, Aug. 4.
The first family in line for the free backpack/community event told Paul Winchester, director of missions, Union Baptist Association, they arrived at 6 a.m.
He heard of a mother and daughter who walked about half a mile to attend.
As folks waited patiently for the doors to open at 8 a.m., they were entertained by the Praise Band of Bear Cove Baptist Church, Sparta, playing from an elevated platform on the parking lot. From the building they smelled biscuits being kept warm. Then they heard Jerry Pullum, pastor, Bear Cove Baptist, speak about how he accepted Jesus into his life.
Once inside, each student picked up their free backpack filled with supplies. Folks enjoyed free food and drinks, received door prizes and interacted with school officials and other community officials such as policemen. Also representatives from the local hospital, an insurance company and even Tennessee Technological University, Cooke-ville, were present.
The event, called the BAM or Backpack Assist Ministry Event, drew about 2,000 people. It was coordinated by Union Association which was assisted by churches of other denominations and individuals who gave to an account for BAM at a local bank, explained Winchester. In addition, restaurants provided most of the food, the Gideons gave 1,000 Bibles for the backpacks and many people served as volunteers. A restaurant even sent several employees to work.
Winchester learned of the need for the ministry when he heard a school official explaining that an event for students including a free backpack giveaway which had been held for several years was being canceled because the school district would no longer receive federal government stimulus money.
The event “had all the bugs ironed out of it,” said Winchester, including a site which was free of charge and the fact that the schools were used to serving at the event.
The association offered $12,000 to fund BAM but didn’t have to spend all of that, said Winchester. Numbers are still being crunched, he added.
He knows that last year about 400 backpacks were distributed and this year about 900 backpacks and drawstring bags filled with supplies and 400 bags of supplies were distributed. The supplies included items for school, personal hygiene items, a Bible and a spiritual tract. Left over supplies will be delivered to the schools in White County and Van Buren County.
One table at the event was manned by local pastors distributing a small collection of materials from several churches and a card explaining the BAM mission statement. On it was Romans 15:5-6.
Families and children milled about eating snacks. A man left carrying a plate of biscuits.
Winchester said, “This is a God-thing. It’s our people stepping up to do what we should have been doing all along, not depending on the government.
“What a great time,” he concluded.