ELKHART — A new system of tickets and wristbands helped keep the lines down and crowds moving Saturday morning at the annual Back 2 School Elkhart event at Concord Mall.
Instead of waiting in line for hours as in previous years, families on Saturday, July 27, were given a numbered ticket when they arrived. They were free to visit the event’s vendor tents, enjoy the live music or take their children to bounce on the inflatables while they waited for their number to be called.
“A lot of times people came and got the hard resources, the backpacks and shoes, and left without the other resources offered by the school districts and the other organizations,” said Rob Roberson, executive director of Church Community Services, one of the event’s organizers.
The new system, he said, encourages families to explore the other resources available to them while they wait for their turn to collect their new shoes and backpacks.
The numbered tickets each family received when they arrived were punched at each information booth they visited and could be entered in a raffle to win gift certificates or a family membership to the YMCA of Elkhart County.
Even without the prospect of long lines, some families arrived hours ahead of the event’s 9 a.m. start time.
“Some families were here at 9 last night,” said Back 2 School board member Diana Montiel.
Montiel said the new system was “strategically planned for shorter lines.”
“We’re trying to serve everyone in a fast manner,” she said.
Organizers called families in groups of 10 to a series of tents where the children’s feet were sized, washed and fitted with new shoes. Then they proceeded into a storefront in the mall where they could pick out a new backpack and fill it with notebooks, pens, crayons and other school essentials.
Volunteers had 2,000 backpacks to give to students who needed them.
Tara Morris, an event board member and the director of the Back 2 School Health Fair, said the whole process was moving more smoothly than in the past.
“It’s not as congested,” she said.
Morris said the event’s army of 350 to 400 volunteers in white shirts helped guide the families through the process.
Tara and John Stahl of Elkhart brought their 7-year-old son, Lucas, to get new shoes and a backpack for second grade.
“We just needed some help this year,” Tara Stahl said while waiting on a set of bleachers in the parking lot for their number to be called.
The Stahls arrived at 6:30 a.m. and got ticket number 59.
Tara Stahl said the family has three children not yet in school and her husband recently went back to school to become a paralegal.
“Hopefully we’ll be donating to this in the future,” she said. “It’s a great event.”
Elizabeth Ramirez and Nick Roberts of Elkhart grabbed their spot in line early Saturday.
“(Nick) was here at 3:30 (a.m.),” Ramirez said. “He was out here with the 10-year-old and the rest of us came at 7.”
Ramirez said she first came to the event in its second year and arrived at 9 a.m., the event’s scheduled start time.
“I learned better after that,” she said.
The couple have four children, ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade.
Arielle Ramirez, 4, will be starting kindergarten at Woodland Elementary this fall. Her blue Zhu-Zhu Pets backpack had “crayons and scissors and markers,” she said.
“It’s a great event,” Elizabeth Ramirez said, adding that she wants to help out as a volunteer next year. “It helps a lot of families.”