August 1, 2008

Pick Apples to Help Kids: Restaurant Program Provides Backpacks

By Suzanne Ulbrich, The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.

Aug. 1--SNEADS FERRY -- Gentry Nealey picked an apple from a tree in Sneads Ferry Wednesday. But instead of eating it, the 7-year-old went shopping.

For the last four years, as each August rolls around and the countdown to the classroom begins, Linda and Rick Bumgardner and the employees at Rick's Restaurant and Sports Bar put up a tree in the entryway of the restaurant, cover it in apples and hope that the community will respond.

Each apple corresponds to a needy child. The restaurant's annual backpack drive asks those who select an apple to purchase a brand new backpack and stuff it with some school supplies, and maybe even a shirt or a pair of shoes, for a local child.

Gentry and her grandmother Peggy Gentry were one of the first to snatch up an apple.

"Gentry is visiting me from Four Oaks for a few days, so I asked her to help me choose an apple, and we're going to go shopping today -- so she'll be able to help me pick out the things we need to get," Peggy Gentry said.

Linda Bumgardner said a Dixon schools' social worker provides a list of students needing extra help each year.

"We have 41 apples on the tree, 11 more apples this year than last, but the Sneads Ferry community never seems to stop giving and have been amazingly generous each year," she said. "We put the tree up Monday and I've already gotten a call from someone in North Topsail Beach who was anxious to donate to it but was leaving for South Carolina, so she sent me a check which will help supplement the backpacks or cover if a backpack isn't returned -- I am thrilled we got that kind of response immediately."

The backpacks are for students from all three Dixon schools, for kids from kindergarten to high school. Each apple has a brief description of the child who will receive the backpack. The manager on duty will provide a list of school supplies to purchase and additional information on the child's clothing sizes and shoe size.

"After you purchase the items, you pack them in a new backpack with the apple ornament attached to the front, and return it to Rick's by August 17," Bumgardner said.

Gentry, who starts second grade this year, chose a third-grade girl.

"I would have picked a second-grade girl, but can't find one, so I guess a third-grade girl will be fine," she said. "I wanted to help because my grandma just told me (these families) don't have a lot of money, and I'd just like to kinda help them."

After she selected the apple, Manager Ed Miller gave Gentry and her grandmother the list of items and the child's sizes.

"The response we get when we give the families the bags is unbelievable," Miller said. "It's really heart wrenching when a 7-year-old child tells you the gift is the best thing that has ever happened to them."

Peggy Gentry said she is a retired schoolteacher and occasionally substitute teaches at Dixon, so she has seen the needs some students have.

"I have seen what the school's lack, and I know it's important for kids to feel a part of a group," she said. "We feel very fortunate, and my heart goes out to these kids ... Whatever (the list) says, we'll do."

Candy Cassidy, a mom of three, said she will be picking an apple again this year.

"I have partipated for a couple years -- I do it because I have three children, and education is very important to me, and I'll do anything I need to do to help a child get an education," she said. "I have one married, one in college and one in high school. We're fortunate that my husband was blessed with a good business, so if I can help someone else, I'm happy to."

Linda Bumgardner hopes the tax-free weekend coming up will give people an additional incentive to participate.

"The tree going up this week coordinates with this weekend's tax-free school supplies, so hopefully that will give people an incentive to get an apple and shop this weekend to save on the taxes," she said.

Rick's Restaurant and Sports Bar is located on N.C. 210 in Sneads Ferry. They are open daily for lunch and dinner. For more information about the program call Rick's at 910-327-2300, and ask to speak to Joan, Paul or Linda.

Contact Topsail area reporter Suzanne Ulbrich at [email protected] or 910-219-8466. Visit to comment on this report.


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