Waxahachie ISD’s Operation First Day of School program will see some major changes to its organization and set up this year.

With the goal of raising $30,000 for school supplies to help students in need at this year’s event, district officials are hoping the change from the previous weekday event to a weekend event will go smoothly. Operation First Day of School, now in its sixth year, assists students by providing them with backpacks, school supplies and other back-to-school essentials they are not able to afford, according to a WISD press release.

This year’s event will go from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 8 at the Ninth Grade Academy. Typically, the event has been held at an elementary campus, but district officials wanted something more centrally located this year and the time was chosen with working parents in mind, said WISD spokesperson Jenny Bridges, who is helping organize the event. Parents and students will be directed where to go on the campus on the day of the event, she said.

“We’re always trying new things, trying to make this as smooth of a process as we can for everyone involved because we are trying to serve so many people,” Bridges said, adding the district generally gives supplies to 1,000-1,5000 students in need every year. “This is the first year we’re having it on a Saturday, and this is also the first year we haven’t had a morning session or an evening session.”

Also this year, instead of having racks of donated clothing for students to choose outfits from, the district has partnered with an area thrift store to provide a shopping voucher. This will help keep the typically long waiting lines down, she said, plus give a chance for the students and parents to shop on their own terms. The district is currently working with the Connect4Life thrift store and church on W. Franklin Street, but is also hoping to partner with other local business, she said.

“We just thought these thrift stores are working with donations of clothing every day. They’re the expert, so maybe it would be a better and smoother process if we had a voucher where they could go shop on their own time and not have to do it that day,” she said.

The vouchers will be good until Dec. 31, so if parents and students don’t need warm weather clothing for early in the school year, they can wait until temperatures are cooler to shop for what they may need, she said. Vouchers will be given to students after they’ve gone through each station at the event to pick out the supplies they need, she said.

“Plus, it can be overwhelming,” she said. “We have amazing volunteers who really just make it a fun process. We want people who come to get their supplies for back-to-school to feel like they’re going out on a VIP shopping trip. We want to have plenty of people there to help them pick out everything they need to start the school year off right – get the backpack they want that they’re going to be happy with all year. Then, we’ll also have people giving haircuts and giving out books, and things like that. We want every child in need to feel really, really special.”

Currently, the Cherokee Charmers, the Waxahachie High School Interact Club and Interact students from Global High as well as about 20 Waxahachie High School football players are expected to help out to start with. But the district is still needing as many helping hands as possible, she said.

“We want to make sure we’re helping as many of our economically disadvantaged kids as we can,” Bridges said, adding more than 50 percent of WISD’s student population falls under that category. “What we do is our Child Nutrition team comes to the event, and they will have parents fill out our free and reduced lunch paperwork. That’s how you qualify to enter to get your supplies, by qualifying for the free and reduced lunch program. They’ll have the opportunity to go ahead and get signed up for free and reduced lunch, so they’re getting that out of the way before the beginning of the school year and they’ll also fill out some paperwork with school officials to help them get registered for school and all of that.”

As far as raising the funds for the supplies go, WISD is hoping to raise as much or if not close to the $30,000–mark as possible by July 31 to have time to buy the needed supplies. If the deadline passes, and residents still want to help, they won’t be turned away and the district will take things up to the day of the event, Bridges said. The district has raised a little less than $5,000 as of press time.

“This year, we have a goal to have enough supplies in hand for 1,500 students,” she said. “It’s a lofty goal, but we really want to provide supplies for as many kids as possible. In addition, to financial donations, of course we’re accepting supply donations as well and those can be brought to the admin building or dropped off at donation boxes in the area.”

So far, the district has received a $1,000 donation from the Rotary Club, a $1,000 gift card from H-E-B, a $1,000 donation from Kevin Chester, with Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, LLP, and several other individual donations. The WISD Administration building is located at 411 N. Gibson Street, and those who are interested in donating, volunteering or simply wanting to find out more, can contact Bridges at Jbridges@wisd.org.

“We so greatly appreciate all the support for the district that the community gives. We definitely need all the help we can get in making sure these kids have the tools and resources they need to start the school year off right and to succeed in their classes,” she said, adding this is her first year to be a part of Operation First Day of School. “I’m so excited to see the little bitty elementary kids, who are just starting, come and pick out their supplies and come and pick out their backpacks. It’s wonderful to see any student get their supplies, but the little bitties have a special place in my heart.”