Cottage Grove gears up for school year

RYLEIGH NORGROVE/ THE CHRONICLE – Emma Ritcher (right) and her mom, Hayley, were one of many families who were given free school supplies by the Cottage Grove Riverside Church.

COTTAGE GROVE – As the school year looms, students, teachers and families in Cottage Grove came out to the annual “Party in the Park/Emergency Preparedness Fair” to enjoy the sunshine, groovy tunes and to get ready for the new year.

For some, back to school brings much more than first-day jitters – it’s got a hefty price tag, too. There are pencil cases, lunch-boxes and notebooks to buy, not to mention those cool new sneakers everyone’s texting about. And as prices rise across the nation, this year, things look a little different. 

At the fair, church organizers gave out over 500 well-stocked backpacks to students of all ages. They also served over 1,000 hotdogs. 

Erin Summerlin volunteered to help run the giveaway. “We just really want to bless the community and help them prepare themselves for the next school year,” she said. “It’s in our heart to bless the community. And we want to show them that love, and be a light in their lives, to just show them that there are people out there who care and who want to help them succeed.”

The Party in the Park brought family fun to Coiner Park, where kids had their faces painted, took turns at the dunk-tank and munched on hot dogs. Most little ones in the crowd held up shiny new backpacks. 

For some mothers, this year marks a definitive end of modified schooling during the Covid Pandemic. “My kids are really just trying to catch up after Covid,” saidTawny Purdy, a mom of three. “They struggled a lot with appropriate classroom behavior and social interactions because they hadn’t seen their friends in so long they thought it was playtime. So we’re ready to get back into the swing of things, and it’s just super awesome that they provide school supplies for the kids, especially with increases in everything.” 

RYLEIGH NORGROVE/ THE CHRONICLEJayce Drago is returning to school after two years of modified learning. Jayce’s minion- themed backpack was, according to him, “too cool for school.”

For the Mains sisters, the new school year will be about, “confronting fears,” “having fun,” and a “return to normal.” The pair, Madison and Abigail, will be entering middle school and high school this year. 

Their mom, Amber Dougan, was quick to chime in. “The giveaway is really nice. It’s one less thing we have to worry about for school. This backpack now means we can afford a different pair of shoes, or another pair of pants. Instead of having to decide if we can get them two pairs of pants, maybe we can get three. You know, it makes a huge difference.” 

On the other end of Coiner Park, the Emergency Preparedness Fair was in full swing, hosted by the City of Cottage Grove. The fair aimed to, “teach others about how to take care of yourself and your family in the event of a disaster.” 

Raffle winners were given life-saving gear, including first aid kits, emergency life straws, emergency blankets, solar chargers, headlamps, whistles, kids’ toys and more.  

The City also hosted a booth with information on drinking water, their new purple line waste-management system and the public water system. Water conservation kits and rain gauges were given out for free.

Twenty vendors and emergency vehicles were in attendance, including representatives from PeaceHealth, South Lane Fire & Rescue, Oregon Department of Forestry, Sustainable Cottage Grove and Lane County Sheriffs. 

“It’s important for the public to know where their tax dollars are spent and what kind of preparations their local agencies have,” Sgt. Tom Speldrich said. “Our office is responsible for search and rescue operations. So we have to, in addition to just being a law enforcement agency, and running a jail, we also have to use search and rescue equipment.” 

Speldrich and others took eager kids up into search tanks, motorboats and dune buggies. “This is the best part of the job,” he said. “It’s just so refreshing to be interacting with the community and getting to know those that we serve.”