Back-to-school outreach program gives students a ‘Bright Beginning’ to the school year

Education

SMITHFIELD, Va. (WAVY) — A back-to-school outreach program is hoping to make the start of the new school year a little less stressful for families.

The YMCA’s Bright Beginnings Back to School Outreach Program has helped over 15,000 students throughout the last 18 years.

On Wednesday, volunteers from Smithfield Foods shopped for 80 families with students in Isle of Wight County schools to make sure they have something to wear when classes start.

“These are families that are economically challenged and they’re working hard but an incident like the breakdown of a car or something else could lead to them making choices on what they can spend or purchase for their children,” said Leslie Bryant with the YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas.

The YMCA partnered with Smithfield Foods to not only get the clothes for students but also a backpack full of school supplies.

Usually, students will accompany the volunteers but the pandemic caused some changes.

“This year is a little like last year. Over the past two years, we’ve had to take programs we know serve our communities that are still in need. Even though we know COVID is still going on, we’ve had to give our services,” she said.

Jonathan Toms, with Smithfield Foods, says 20 employees participated in the community event.

“Bright Beginnings gives us so much joy because we believe education is the power to drastically [improve] our community. This program allows us to ensure all the students in our area have that equitable access to education. Those students who a little helping hand. We’re able to provide that to them and build these meaningful relationships with the kids,” he said.

Toms says they’ve been partnering with Luter Family YMCA for many years and have been participating in Bright Beginnings for 14 years.

In 2020, Smithfield Foods donated $70 million in cash donations and product donations to communities across the country.

The students selected for the program are referred by the school districts and are elementary school-aged.

Bryant says families who also have a middle school student also get their assistance.

Twins Brea and Brennan Davis, who are fourth-graders and recipients of the backpacks and clothes, say it felt good to get them.

“We don’t have to pay a lot of money to buy the stuff,” they said.

The twins say they’re excited to get back to school to make new friends and meet their teachers.

The back-to-school outreach was one of 15 happening in Hampton Roads.

For more information about the program, click here.

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