The Junior League of Longview’s School Supply Train chugged along Saturday for its 25th year, providing supplies, uniform shirts and shoes for 2,000 children.

Hundreds of parents lined the sidewalks as early as 4:45 a.m. Saturday outside First Baptist Church’s Recreation Outreach Center, event chair Blythe Martin said. Co-chair Heather Wimberly said 20 Junior League members filled backpacks with school supplies for “two weeks straight.”

Gabrielle McAlister woke up early to drive from Ore City. She said this is her fourth year getting supplies for her five children, ranging in age from 5 to 18.

“It tremendously helps. That’s for sure with five kids. Even with two (children), it’s hard to get the supplies I need. ... School supplies are expensive,” she said.

According to a Women & Co. study, parents living in the southern U.S. spend $51 per child for school supplies.

Wimberly said Buckner Children & Family Services provided shoes and hygiene kits, and First Baptist donated uniform polos for Longview ISD students. Haircuts, dental and vision screenings also were available, she said.

“It helps out so many families. We tried to get them really good supplies this year, so hopefully, they last throughout the year and they don’t have to worry about that. It helps the whole community — not just Longview, but all of East Texas,” Wimberly said.

Because of “a pretty clear need,” Buckner Family Hope Center director Susan Williams said the organization wants to extend its hand to families beyond the School Supply Train.

“For us as an organization, it’s really important because it gives us a really broad opportunity to be able to tell a lot of people about what we do and see if our services match with their needs,” Williams said.

Kilgore retiree Ann Howard is raising two grandchildren and a great-grandchild. She said the free school supplies help her budget.

“It is beneficial for every parent to have a helping hand from somebody, especially when they’re raising their kids (as) single parents,” Howard said.

She said she worked as a clerical assistant for Kilgore ISD, so she knows the benefits of having school supplies.

“Sometimes you give the supplies to the kids or the parent and they get left at home,” Howard said. “If they donate more to schools, it would benefit them better because the ones who don’t come to these events still need help. They may not have transportation.”

Williams hopes Saturday’s event supplied parents with what they needed for their children, and she wants them to know they have support.

“I hope (parents) feel encouraged. I hope they see their community is with them. ... We want them to know that they’re not in it alone, that we’re all in this together and we want to make them feel supported,” she said.

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Brittany Michelle Williams, a University of Arkansas alumna, serves East Texas as an education reporter at the News-Journal. She won Arkansas Press Association and Arkansas AP Media Editors awards for her work in El Dorado, Arkansas.