There was a palpable energy in the air on a warm, sunny Aug. 26, as a Woodbury police officer directed vehicles into the parking lot across the street from the Gloucester County YMCA on Red Bank Avenue.
He also stopped traffic to help hundreds of families cross the street to attend the Back-to-School Bash, an annual, free community event. Once on the YMCA grounds, children got to jump around in the bounce house, play games on the field, get haircuts and paint bookmarks they can use during the new school year.
And thanks to donations from the community, they also received free backpacks and school supplies.
“This is a really important event,” said Megan Zane, an intern helping to distribute the new backpacks. “Summer camp just ended and this helps the children get ready for the first day of school. Also, it brings more awareness to the community of all the services the YMCA has to offer.”
The Back-To-School Bash “is critical to the community and helps the students transition from summer to the new school year,” explained YMCA Executive Director Cameron Baker, who was thrilled by the high turnout. “We have more than 50 vendors this year, and this event also connects the community to health and wellness resources.”
Jefferson Health System representatives talked to parents and guardians and distributed pamphlets about the many medical services offered in South Jersey, as did representatives of the Gloucester County Department of Health and Human Services, who addressed resources available to people struggling with poverty, mental-health issues and addiction.
“All of our staff has been working hard to prepare for the festival,” Baker noted. “We started back in April and every department helps.”
Baker, who became executive director of the Y in December 2021, represents a charitable organization that has been in the county since 1906. Coming out of the pandemic, it did not take long for him and the staff to get things going again.
“We’re back to full operation. The summer camp youth program was bigger than ever. For the Back-to-School Bash, we have more partners than ever,” noted Baker, referring to all the organizations and vendors participating.
Children at the event had their faces painted and made drawings and bookmarks with watercolors and some assistance from artist Nicole Blank.
For information on YMCA programs and services to the county, including before- and after-school programs, fitness classes and swim lessons, go to www.ymcagloco.org.