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North Liberty hosts inaugural Back 2 School Bash

Hundreds of families prepare for school at Penn Meadows Park
Abdala, 11, of North Bend Elementary finds the perfect pair of basketball shoes Friday, Aug. 17, at the Old Town Park Gazebo in North Liberty. Volunteers helped kids pick out shoes during the inaugural Back 2 School Bash, which provided school supplies to local families to kick off the school year. (photo by Cale Stelken)

NORTH LIBERTY– If there was ever a manifestation of community support in North Liberty, it was Friday, Aug. 17, at Penn Meadows Park.
Thanks to a barrage of volunteers and donations, hundreds of local families received a strong start to their school year during the inaugural Back 2 School Bash. The three-hour event provided a comprehensive selection of items free to the public, with long lines of families eager to take part on the sunny Friday afternoon.
The Old Town Park Gazebo was at full capacity, with volunteers helping kids find new shoes to start the school year on the right foot; haircuts were provided under a shelter to the returning shaggy students; and while several tables layered in backpacks stood near the Penn Meadows baseball diamond, it didn’t take but an hour or two for them to go bare.
In addition, the North Liberty Community Pantry provided toiletries, socks and underwear, school supplies and pre-bagged groceries of kid-friendly foods to prepare them for the first week of school. A bounce house, a play parachute and music offered a festive atmosphere to the school supply drive. In total, the Back 2 School Bash served 1,094 attendees, consisting of 221 families, for a total of 516 students.
“I think it was a huge success,” said Kaila Rome, Executive Director of the North Liberty Community Pantry. “Just having something that felt inclusive and welcoming to everybody, regardless of their economic background, was really important. It felt like we were definitely serving kids in need, but it was also a place to kind of celebrate going back to school with having the bounce house and kids just playing with each other.”
The Back 2 School Bash was organized by the North Liberty Community Pantry, the City of North Liberty and a group of community partners, including the North Liberty Unity Coalition, the Iowa City Community School District’s Family and Student Advocates, the North Liberty Optimist Club, Forever Green Nursery, MidWestOne Bank, JM Swank and Alliant Energy. Various local churches, businesses and the city provided drop-off sites to make the event possible.
“The pantry has been a part of this event since 2012, so we spread the word a lot within the folks that we serve, where we basically can already identify that those are the folks that are in need,” Rome said.
2018 marked the first time the event, which for years has been hosted at Penn Meadows Park the Friday before school starts, has been facilitated through North Liberty organizations as an independent event. The school supply drive in previous years was handled by LIFEChurch, which hosted separate events in neighboring cities under the Servolution banner. The church underwent new leadership last year, however, and decided in 2018 to simply host one large Servolution in Coralville.
“We just really felt that a lot of North Liberty or northern Johnson County families without transportation might struggle to get there, so we kind of broke away and took from their playbook of how it has been done in the past,” Rome explained.
The church gave its blessings, enabling North Liberty organizations to make sure the families in North Liberty and Solon could still access the event in its traditional format.
“This being the first year that we did that, it was amazing to see that just this community contributed to getting all those items,” Rome remarked. “It was definitely a great turnout.”