By MADOLINE MARKHAM
All students at Phil Campbell Elementary School will have school supplies when school starts this month, thanks to efforts spearheaded by two Highland Lakes women.
Brenda Gustin and Fran Stainback organized donations for more than 460 backpacks for the students, pre-kindergarten to sixth grade.
The town of Phil Campbell lost 30 people in the storms, including two students and a second grade teacher.
“We hope to give children something to smile about when they go back to school,“ Gustin said.
A few days after the April 27 tornadoes, Gustin, whose father is a minister in nearby Russellville, contacted Phil Campbell Elementary School Principal Jackie Ergle to see what their long-term needs would be. From there, she and Stainback, both members of the Highland Lakes Women’s Club, began to organize fundraising efforts and reach out to other women’s organizations including Greystone-in-the-Gates Garden Club, Limestone Springs Ladies Club and Oneonta Variosa Club.
Once they began spreading the word about the project, they received donations from as far away as Texas.
“The Phil Campbell Elementary School motto, ‘Hand in hand, together we can,’ rang true to the whole project,” Gustin said.
Crayons, glue sticks, pencils and other supplies were purchased with donations and fulfilled the supply lists specific to each grade level the school used last year.
On June 28, a group of volunteers met at Mt Laurel Elementary to stuff the backpacks along with Ergle, a teacher from each grade at Phil Campbell and other representatives from the school. Mt Laurel Library staff and the Berry Middle School Dance Team also helped. Gustin and Stainback allowed six hours for the job, but with all the volunteers, it was done in an hour and a half.
About 15 Spain Park football players came after their morning practice to help as well. “It was phenomenal to see how thrilled they were to pack backpacks for elementary school children,” Gustin said.
Walmart on 280 donated backpacks for each child. Greystone Self Storage provided their air-conditioned storage facility to store the filled backpacks until they are delivered during the school’s open house on August 11.
Extra funds collected for the backpack project will be used to replace playground and athletic facilities destroyed at the school during the storm. They will purchase soccer and volleyball equipment for their fields and repair a recess area called “Kevin’s Corner” that honored a person special to the school.
“Most importantly, [the children at Phil Campbell] will know that they will not be forgotten and that people are thinking about them and wishing them well,” Stainback said.