A family that draws together

Siblings Joseph, Shaliam, and Ariel Gorman color in stencils at a vendor table during the annual Back to School Brigade by Operation Homefront at the Bronco Youth Center on Fort Hood Saturday.

From the moment the doors opened at the Bronco Youth Center, the line stretched out the door.

The look on parents’ faces were happy and filled with excitement, already anticipating the day they’d send their children back to school.

The children’s faces were more likely to be filled with dread at their upcoming educational incarceration or outright boredom from waiting in line on a Saturday morning.

But that didn’t stop Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit designed to help build strong, stable military families, from handing out 1,000 backpacks during their ninth annual Back-to-School Brigade initiative.

The backpacks were filled with all needed school supplies for children of active duty military in the ranks of private to staff sergeant serving on post and to children of wounded warriors of all ranks.

“We pre-registered for the event and we had 1,000 children registered with 300 more on our waiting list,” said Operation Homefront community liaison Erica Howe. “Unfortunately, we had to actually turn people away. I really wish we could do more, because that’s always a hard thing to do.”

The nonprofit partners with local businesses and Dollar Tree every year to raise the needed amount of school supplies each child needs — an average of $100 or more per child for supplies, she said. Each year, the initiative continues to grow.

“Last year, we distributed 768 bags — this year we did 1,000,” Howe said. “We hope to make it bigger every year and try to serve as many of the families on Fort Hood as we can.”

Liz Davenport, a school liaison officer with the U.S. Army Child, Youth School Services, said it was good to see the children being taken care of before getting back to school.

“It’s good that they know they are supported,” she said.

For one mom, knowing she wouldn’t have to fork over all the money needed to send her two boys back to school was a relief.

“I think it’s amazing that our (local area) partners are willing to come together for the military,” said Kim Alcorn, who picked up backpacks for sons Benjamin, 8, and Joshua, 6. “My youngest one doesn’t qualify because she’s in pre-k, but that’s two kids I don’t have to buy for.”

Alcorn said she signed her boys up as soon as Operation Homefront opened registration in early July.

“They’re ready to go back to school — well, I am,” she laughed.

Benjamin actually said he was ready to start third grade and was excited to get his new supplies. Joshua, however, wasn’t too thrilled to start first grade.

One of Staff Sgt. David Dandy’s children — his daughter — was eagerly looking forward to starting school on Aug. 22, but his son was already missing the lazy days of summer.

“This is really good — it’s good for the community and to see everybody helping out,” the 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier said.

“School time gets pretty expensive, so every little bit helps. I’m ready for them to go back to school — it’s like the ‘adult’s Christmas-time’ every year.”

Howe said she hoped to get more businesses within the Central Texas community involved for next year’s Back-to-School Brigade drive.

“That way we can increase the amount of supplies and the amount of backpacks we can provide,” she said. “Turning folks away is never a good feeling, so if we can get more people involved with Operation Homefront, I would love to have them.”

dbryant@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7554

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