With the start of a new school year right around the corner, the Kiwanis Club of Tellico Village, Malibu Boats and Loudon County’s school systems helped students get ready Thursday at Walmart.

Club co-coordinator Jerry Wrubel said the program’s success the past 15 years can be attributed to Malibu’s generosity. The local industry gave $2,500 to help cover 25 students at $100 apiece in Loudon County and Lenoir City schools.

“But I think between (Malibu’s) support and the fact that it’s such a feel good thing,” Wrubel said. “Even now with COVID restriction on it where the shopping’s not done in mass, their smiles aren’t going to change and the kids are going to be just as happy. It’s just that we’re delivering it a little differently.”

Donna Tallent, Malibu vice president of operations, said Thursday was all about the children.

“Obviously, the community’s very important to us and we want to be a partner to them,” Tallent said. “Kiwanis approached us and brought in different programs to give us an option of what we wanted to support. We chose this program here because it was very important for us to support our children. All of our community support is about the kids.”

Shopping this year is in a similar format to 2020, with Family Resource Center employees from each district meeting families over a few days to purchase school clothing. Only a handful of families were present Thursday for the official ceremony.

Wrubel said the format was left the same because club members didn’t know COVID-19’s impact at the time.

The club could go back to the old format, where families gather at Walmart for a ceremony before going off to shop.

“Our main purpose is just making the lives of children that are disadvantaged better — giving them a shot at a better future. It ties in perfectly with our club,” Angela Antico, incoming club president, said. “... We’ve got almost 50 different active projects that we do and this is just one of our signature projects. Thankfully, we have great sponsors.”

Cindy Purdy, Loudon County FRC director, said the current setup actually proves beneficial for families.

“I think this way is better,” Purdy said. “There’s a lot less stress for families. Some of our children need small group settings and it decreases stress for them and they get to enjoy the shopping experience a little better. Otherwise, they might not get to stay inside because they may have autism or something like that. When they’re in here they’re overstimulated with all these people and they can’t enjoy themselves. It’s a lot less stress for me, too, and then it builds family engagement because I have more time to spend one-on-one with the families as opposed to them just getting a few minutes in a group of people.”

Susan Fox, Lenoir City FRC director, said Thursday’s ceremony “kind of kicks off school for us.”

“For the families that we work with each year it’s kind of a blessing because there are so many other pulls on their financials that I think this is one opportunity where their children can have new clothing, new shoes, toiletry items and things like that to start the school year,” Fox said. “It allows the parents to use that money in other ways, and that could be with us, our parents are probably doing their Chromebook insurance, so if you have three or four children, $35 times four children that’s quite a bit of money. So it allows them to do other things with that money that may be academic in nature.”

Fox completed the shopping process Friday.

“It warms our hearts to see them happy,” Wrubel said. “And this has been an odd year again. School I believe will be full time, all the indications are, except for the delta variant that’s out there, but let’s hope that it’s going to be back to normal and either way they’re going to enjoy new clothing.”