With students from throughout Pine Bluff and Jefferson County set to head back to the classrooms on Monday, the Pine Bluff Black Firefighters Association made sure that many of them will have the supplies they need to start the year.
Project Fresh Start, sponsored by BRAVE (Banishing Racial Animosity Vigorously Everywhere), was held Saturday in the arena of the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
“We’re a chapter of the Association of Black Professional Firefighters and on the third Saturday of August of every year, every chapter holds an event to give away school supplies,” said Fire and Emergency Services Lt. Mozell Gipson, vice president of the local chapter. “It’s an opportunity for firefighters to give back to the community that we serve.”
Now in its ninth year, the event began at Central Park but was moved to the convention center several years ago after almost being washed out by heavy rain.
“It’s a great day outside but it’s an even better day inside,” Gipson said, reflecting on previous events where the temperatures topped the 100-degree mark.
He said between 2,000 and 2,500 packages of school supplies would be given away during the four-hour event. Since the inception of the program, almost 20,000 kids have received supplies.
“Last year we also included giving school uniforms to kids,” Gipson said, explaining that the bulk of the financing for the giveaway was the result of donations from corporations and individuals, and that the costs of putting on the event reach five figures.
“Most of the school supplies came from Walmart and the Walmart Foundation is one of our biggest corporate sponsors every year,” Gipson said.
Pine Bluff Police Officer Princess Danzy, who supervises the Americorps program, was on hand with one of the department’s bounce houses and also provided security along with other officers.
Danzy said she was also there to support the efforts of the fire department, and Gipson said the two departments work together to try and make the community better.
“The police and fire departments are 250 strong and we all stick together,” he said.
Morgan Burnett, 8, a student at L. L. Owen Elementary School, was holding a balloon sword and said she had just gone through the bounce house.
Like her brother, Michael Burnett Jr., 12, Morgan already had gotten her packet of school supplies and uniforms, and admitted she didn’t know what was in the bags.
“As soon as we got them, they went right outside and were put in the truck,” said Michael, a seventh-grader to be at Watson Chapel.
In addition to the annual school supply event, Gipson said BRAVE also awards three scholarships to students at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and has been doing so for the last five years.
“It takes a lot of support and a lot of different groups and individuals to make this go,” Gipson said.