More than 850 families with school-age children reported to the Pleasant Branch Baptist Church’s educational wing Saturday, for the Pine Street Community Backpack Program.

Organizer Gena Ester said in an earlier interview that 600 backpacks of supplies was the goal for the group, who announced registration in July.

Saturday, Ester said that the Pine Street Community Development Corporation "didn’t turn anyone away."

Plans were to cater to Faulkner County students in grades kindergarten though eighth, but Ester and the Pine Street team were barraged with assistance inquiries from families with high school students this year.

"Most were being sent our way this year. Our past partners weren’t operating to the scale that they had in years past, so we picked up some slack. It is tight out there," said Ester.

Conway resident Nita Cunningham attested to that Saturday while she was in attendance of the program.

"At one time I have bought supplies for four in public school," Cunningham said. "I also had my niece and nephew in my care."

Cunningham’s 19-year-old son has left public school, but she is readying a fifth-grader, a second-grader and a pre-K student in 2011.

"I remember buying that calculator for my son that year. The calculator alone was $120."

Cunningham spent around $300 on supplies in a recent school year. 

This is the second time her family has welcomed the assistance of the backpack program.

Her fifth- and second-graders were also receiving back to school haircuts Saturday from the Washington Barber College, whose teachers and students were on site to offer services free of charge.

"Last year coming here helped a lot. Next year we will come back and I’ll have at least three then," she said.

Ester noted that the program has, in the past, filled backpacks with supplies specific to the student’s gender, grade and classroom for about 1,400 students.

In its fourth year, the program has grown exponentially, Ester said.

City and county officials, area churches, and students from Conway’s university and colleges have become a part of the growing program.

Ester said that the University of Central Arkansas’s athletic department, including basketball coach Corliss Williamson, have become dedicated partners.

Central Baptist College’s wrestling team and many other school groups were at the church Saturday to cook and offer a free meal to families.

"Our sponsors and the people who have come out to volunteer and show support for this, it is just overwhelming," Ester said.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to Send us your news at