Donation efforts across the South have collected food, clothing and other supplies for the victims of the Gatlinburg area wildfires, but a local family is reaching out to fill a forgotten need: school supplies.
Manda Hingston, a Bulloch County resident who moved here from Gatlinburg a year ago, is spearheading a drive to provide more than 300 students in and around Sevier County, Tennessee, with necessities such as notebooks, paper, pens, pencils and other school supplies to replace what they may have lost in the fires.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced Wednesday that two juveniles believed to be responsible for starting the massive fires have been charged with aggravated arson. The wildfires devoured homes and businesses, killed 14 people and injured dozens more in eastern Tennessee, according to reports.
Hingston was moved to anger and tears Wednesday upon hearing the news of the arrests. Her passion to help the fire victims grows daily, she said.
The idea of collecting school supplies came from her son, Colt, a Southeast Bulloch High School student who was devastated by the news that his hometown had burned, she said.
The Hingston family lost property in the fires and knows several families in the Gatlinburg area who lost their homes, and even their lives, she said. The disaster hit even closer to home for Hingston because her husband, Brad Hingston, was a volunteer firefighter for Sevier County, and her father is retired from the Gatlinburg Fire Department.
The Hingstons moved to the Statesboro area when Brad was transferred to the Pooler branch of America’s Home Place, which is one drop-off point for donated items. There are also several places in Bulloch County where people can drop off donated school supplies, including Statesboro High School, Southeast Bulloch High School, Awards South, Medical Center Pharmacy at Cotton Ridge and Uncle Shug’s BBQ in Brooklet.
The effort has sparked a friendly rivalry between Statesboro High and Southeast Bulloch High as each school attempts to collect the most supplies. With cooperation from Awards South, “the winning school will be given the Giving Heart/Helping Hands Spirit of the Smokies Award,” Hingston said, adding that she plans to contact more schools this week to invite them to join the competition.
The regional chapter of the National Honor Society also has reached out to offer help, she said.
Hingston plans to deliver the donations herself to the Sevier County Board of Education.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.