About 50 volunteers from different nonprofits, businesses and communities spent their Tuesday packing 5,000 backpacks with school supplies as part of the Love Our Schools initiative that will benefit eight Lafayette Parish schools.
Inside the Lafayette Parish School System's warehouse, the group stood in assembly lines on either side of a long string of tables full of boxes of pencils, Elmer's glue, composition notebooks and Expo markers.
One person grabbed a brand-new backpack, passed it to the next person to put in notebooks, and the next would add colorful folders and the next pencils and so on.
Amy Speidel, outreach coordinator with Love Acadiana, called the turnout "incredible."
"I'm absolutely excited to see a community come support kids," Speidel said. "The message we want to send (to students) is we support them. ... This is thrilling to see so many people who will spend their summer day packing backpacks."
There were young children, teenagers, parents, teachers and CEOs taking turns doing different jobs. An hour and a half in, they all were sweating, reminding each other to hydrate and working contently.
"It's really cool how many people came to support this," said 14-year-old Austin Mendoza. The St. Thomas More Catholic High student came with her grandmother, JoAnn Pugh, a founder of Pugh Family Foundation.
It ran smoothly. As they finished packing for one grade level, they shifted the boxes, removing scissors and erasers and replacing them with items older students need. As one school's set of backpacks are filled, the giant boxes are covered and moved to the side to make way for the next school's box.
Nicole Billeaud said she heard about the volunteer opportunity from a coworker at Our Lady of Lourdes. She brought her daughter and her boyfriend, both seniors at North Vermilion High School and in need of community service hours before graduation.
"I thought it was a worthwhile thing," Billeaud said as she stacked notebooks.
The 5,000 backpacks and school supplies — which cost about $190,000 all together — will go to students at eight schools chosen for the Love Our Schools initiative.
"The whole point of Love Our Schools was to create a community rising in support of schools," said Ryan Domengeaux, CEO of the William C. Schumacher Family Foundation.
The project was announced in March as a partnership between the school system, the William C. Schumacher Family Foundation and Love Acadiana, an outreach of Our Savior's Church.
Other foundations and organizations have joined forces as well, raising about $1.2 million so far, Domengeaux said.
"It's a huge support effort by philanthropy, business community, individuals from all corners of the parish," Domengeaux said.
Zach Hager volunteered both as director of business development for One Acadiana, which seeks to be active in the community, and as the husband of a teacher.
"I understand the challenges kids have, and any help I can give I want to give," Hager said.
The work continues leading up to July 13 when thousands of volunteers will help to complete more than 100 projects at these schools:
Alice Boucher Elementary
Carencro Heights Elementary
J.W. Faulk Elementary
Funds have gone toward supplies like the backpacks, 500 gallons of paint and everything else needed for the projects, which range from landscaping to new bleachers for Acadian Middle, Domengeaux said.
"We started with an idea to raise $5,000 a school," Domengeaux said. "So this $40,000 idea has turned into $1.2 million, $1.5 million. And the value of this will be $2 million to $3 million at least, because we're not paying for labor. It's all volunteer work."
More than 2,200 people have signed up to volunteer July 13, and Domengeaux hopes more continue to sign up, which can be done here.
Just like stuffing backpacks, volunteers can range in age and ability, depending on their task.
"Kids can come if they're well-supervised," Domengeaux said. "We'd like some skilled laborers as well, because we will be doing some small construction and assembling some things."