Fort Meade families disappointed by the cancellation of National Night Out last week were able to enjoy an evening with Fort Meade firefighters, the community policing officer and a face painter.
To top it off, they took home free backpacks filled with school supplies.
The Enlisted Spouses’ Club gave away 220 backpacks during the 90-minute event held Tuesday at Potomac Place Neighborhood Center.
The ESC participated in Operation Homefront’s annual Back-to-School Brigade, a nationwide school-supply collection campaign for military families.
“Any opportunity we get to give back to the community we are all up for it,” said Ellie Batista, ESC president.
Batista said the club purchased 250 backpacks on Amazon and filled them with the school supplies. ESC planned to give away the donations at National Night Out, but the annual Fort Meade event was cancelled due to heavy rain.
The club used funds from its Thrift Shop to purchase the backpacks. As an additional fundraiser, the club sold copies of its new “Family Recipes” book at the event and raffled a six-month membership to military spouses.
ESC decided to distribute the backpacks before the start of the school year. The club partnered with the Directorate of Emergency Services and Corvias to give Fort Meade firefighters and police a chance to interact with families.
The club participated in Operation Homefront’s annual Back-to-School Brigade by gathering free school supplies from donation bins located near Dollar Tree stores in Odenton, Hanover, Baltimore, Germantown, Bethesda and Silver Spring.
Dollar Tree has partnered with Operation Homefront for eight years and is a distribution network for school supplies donated by the organization.
Based in San Antonio, Operation Homefront “assists military families during difficult financial times by providing food assistance, auto and home repair, vision care, travel and transportation, moving assistance, essential home items, and rent-free transitional housing for wounded veterans and their families,” according to the organization’s website.
ESC began to promote the backpack giveaway in July on its website and Facebook page. Parents registered for backpacks on the website.
After National Night Out was cancelled, Mavi Conner, vice president of ESC and organizer of the giveaway, contacted the parents who registered and told them that the club was organizing a follow-up event to distribute the backpacks.
Conner then reached out to DES and Corivas to co-host the event.
“We wanted to bring all the resources together from National Night Out to give families just a little bit of it,” she said. “We wanted to do this for the community.”
Mary Witkop, wife of Tech Sgt. Stuart Witkop of the 34th Intelligence Squadron, picked up backpacks for their 8-year-old son Liam and 9-year-old daughter Minerva.
“This is big. It helps us so we’re not putting all of our money toward school supplies,” Witkop said. “It makes a big impact.”
Minerva, who picked out a light purple backpack, said it was cool to be able to take a new one to her fourth-grade class at Pershing Hill Elementary School next month.
Her backpack was filled with markers, pens, pencils, notepads, and a compass and protractor to help her with math problems.
“It’s going to take a long time to figure out how this works,” Minerva said as she eyed the compass.
Fort Meade firefighters arrived aboard Fire Engine No. 451 and parked in front of the neighborhood center. They distributed plastic helmets, water bottles and coloring books to children who asked questions about their job.
“We do this for kids to have a good time.” Fire Capt. David Biddle said. “And if they learn a little something about what we do, that’s good.”
Community Policing Officer Melita Jefferson helped parents register their children with the National Child Identification Program, a community service initiative that provides parents and guardians with an ID Kit of physical characteristics and fingerprints of their child.
Celina Eborn, wife of Marine Staff Sgt. Hurley Eborn, said she planned to register their son 7-year-old Devin as a precaution.
“I think it’s pertinent to have this here,” Eborn said. “I want to give law enforcement his information right away to get on top of it, and to get him back to me if someone tries to take him away.”
During the event, Corvias donated the hot dogs, beverages and raffle prizes that it intended to distribute at National Night Out.
Sgt. Tim Mitchum of U.S. Cyber Command came to the event with his wife, Vivian, and their two daughters: Hailey, 6, and Issabell, 2.
The children sat on their mother’s lap as Michelle Johnson, “The Face Paint Lady,” drew colorful images on their faces.
“It’s good for the kids to have something like this,” said Mitchum, who arrived at Fort Meade with his family in May from Fort Bragg, N.C. “It’s a good way to get to know the community.”
Conner said she will contact the 30 registered parents who were unable to attend and distribute the remaining backpacks to them during the next few weeks.
Nickolas Singh, a sixth-grader at Marley Middle School in Glen Burnie, beamed as he slung his new gray backpack over his shoulders.
“It’s crazy, it’s really crazy,” the 11-year-old said as he looked at all the parents and children who stood in line for face painting, hot dogs and backpacks.
“It looks like the people here are having a good time.”