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Businesses, organizations unite for back-to-school initiatives
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Layla Hand, 8, gets a haircut Saturday during the Bat to School event at Lakeshore Mall in Gainesville. The Georgia Institute of Cosmetology was at the event giving children free haircuts. - photo by Erin O. Smith

With both Gainesville and Hall County schools starting fall classes last week, several businesses and organizations in the community wanted to ensure students have all they need for the year.

Lakeshore Mall in Gainesville buzzed with the activity of excited children and busy parents — busy even for a Saturday afternoon. The mall’s Kids Club hosted its first “Bat to School” event Saturday, which gave away backpacks and school supplies and included a visit from Batman and Wonder Woman.

“This was a concept I had at another event here at Lakeshore Mall,” said Jeff McClure, event organizer and entertainment consultant. “We wanted to do a back-to-school event but figured, instead of just doing that, why not do the ‘Bat’ to school theme and have Batman and the car.”

Parked in the center of the mall, while the two superheroes posed nearby and children ran around excitedly in costumes, was a Batmobile.

McClure, who works in comedy magic, theatrical consulting and has connections in the costume industry, said he and his wife Amanda are friends with the owner of the car and used it as their getaway car at their wedding.

The event included a lottery-style drawing for 143 backpacks stuffed with school supplies. Children had to be present and school-age to receive a backpack. Jeff McClure said AmeriGroup donated 80 backpacks and Lakeshore Mall took care of 63 more. Local businesses donated the necessary school supplies to go inside.

The event was busy, but Jeff McClure said he believed there were enough backpacks for every child present.

“This is the first year we’ve done the Bat to School event, but considering the popularity of it all, we hope to do it every year,” he said.

Several vendors set up inside the mall, including a balloon animal table from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hall County, a free posture screen from Watkins Total Healthcare and free “build and grow” kits from Lowe’s.

The Georgia Institute of Cosmetology was also on hand, offering free haircuts for children.

Jenny Miles of Gainesville brought her son Charlie, 8, to the mall Saturday clad in a Batman t-shirt.

“He loves everything Batman, but honestly we’re here for the school supplies,” Miles said. “It’s a great thing they’re doing and it’s so convenient because it’s right here at the mall.”

Meanwhile, at the nearby Melrose Community on Davis Street in Gainesville, Hood Nation held a back-to-school drive and cookout. Organized by Chiqunna Greene-White, the event also included a lottery-style drawing for donated school supplies.

The organization provided burgers, hot dogs and grilled chicken, and a DJ was on hand while children danced beneath a blue tent.

Shaneka Ware, Greene-White’s sister, said the event was a way for the community to come together in support of children at the start of the school year.

“We try to help the community,” Ware said. “In the winter we do coat drives, and we do back to school drives. At Christmas, Halloween, Easter, all the time, we try to give back to the community.”

Regional events