County Commissioner Amanda Stewart (D) hosted her fifth annual Back-to-School Community Fiesta on Saturday in Waldorf at Mattawoman Middle School, where parents and children of all ages enjoyed a day of fun learning activities, selfie photos, family game stations, informational booths and light refreshments. The first 200 kids who showed up to the event, which was open to all Charles County students in grades pre-K through 12, received a backpack with school supplies.

More than 50 volunteers participated which included a mix of teachers, parents and older students, as well as school board members Virginia McGraw and Elizabeth Brown who were on hand to assist with checking in guests. Commissioners’ President Reuben B. Collins II (D) was there to interact with families.

“We’re so proud of our community’s support,” said Stewart, having emphasized that Mattawoman’s front entrance was crowded with families upon arriving two hours prior to the event’s official start time. “I’m a commissioner but I’m also a teacher, and we know that it’s very important to make sure that our children are ready for school. This is an opportunity to get them in the mindset that it’s time to go back to school. But at the same time, we have so many families that are in need of help with school supplies. Every year, so far, we’ve been able to provide every child a book bag with school supplies.”

Thanks to the efforts of Stewart, volunteers and a few generous sponsors, she said “well over 1,000 book bags” have been given out to families since the event was inaugurated. Overall participation has also skyrocketed from 75 people during the first year to more than 400 families last year, according to Stewart.

“This year, it looks like we have more people coming,” Stewart said as she observed families continuing to walk in Saturday afternoon. “The doors didn’t open this morning until 10:30 a.m., but we already had people lined up at 8:45 a.m. On my Facebook page, I did a live video at 10:25 a.m. and the line was down the sidewalk and curbs.”

“It makes me feel so good — this is the reason why I do this,” Stewart added. “It’s to give back to my community.”

Stewart said everyone can give back “in some way or fashion,” as long as they are helping those who need it most.

“We wanted to support Commissioner Stewart because for the last four years, she’s done a fantastic job of welcoming the community and getting students ready for school,” McGraw said. “It’s wonderful that we can reach out to the community and make them feel welcomed to come in and take part in these activities. It also says a lot about our community, as a whole, volunteering. The sponsors and number of volunteers is more this year than I’ve seen in the past. It shows that there’s a huge interest in helping our children and making sure they’re successful.”

Parent Tamicka Hart of Indian Head, who has attended Stewart’s event before, said she is grateful to have had another pleasant experience with her 3- and 11-year-old daughters. One thing that was particularly fascinating for Hart’s family this year was the county’s mobile library, something that they didn’t know about even after visiting several library branches locally and in surrounding counties, she said.

“Both my girls, ages 3 and 11, enjoyed the activities that were available. Though so simple, my youngest loved painting the rocks. She also enjoyed getting her face painted,” Hart exclaimed. “My older daughter enjoyed answering the questions in Family Feud and watching the other kids play Twister. As a Girl Scout, she enjoyed talking with the woman [who manned that particular information table].”

Hart said “there are several organizations in the county that provide backpacks” for returning schoolchildren, but Stewart’s community fiesta “is the only one” she can recall that “makes an event out of it.”

“It’s more than just coming, getting a backpack and leaving,” said Hart. “It’s interactive, educational and fun. Kudos to Amanda Stewart and her team.”

Twitter: @JClink_MdINDY