Monday morning Dianna Carmean put her multitasking skills to work, emptying a shopping cart full of school supplies and toiletries onto the checkout conveyer belt, simultaneously taking a phone call to answer questions about this year’s KETA program.

Carmean, now retired from the local First Christian Church, has spent nearly two decades serving as the coordinator and board president of Kids Equipped to Achieve — a program that offers free backpacks, school supplies and toiletries to K-12 students in Knox County.

Nineteen years ago she learned about a backpack giveaway program in nearby Washington, “so I decided to try it here,” said Carmean.

Having spent her life trying to “be the hands and feet of Jesus,” founding the KETA program helped fulfill that mission — saying she feels most whole when giving to others.

“All my life I have tried to find the place for me — the plan God has for me,” she said, noting that KETA has helped answer that question.

Though Carmean recognized a need in the county, she had no idea just how many parents and students would show up to the annual backpack giveaways, grateful for the help.

The first year 200 students came to the giveaway event, held at the church.

“We didn’t really have a whole lot of publicity that first time, but when I got to the church an hour ahead, the line was already stretched around the block,” Carmean said.

“It was pretty surprising,” she added with a chuckle.

Years later, the KETA program now serves approximately 700 local youngsters, but to fulfill the needs of so many area students, Carmean says the organization relies on support from the community.

She credits a handful of local churches, along with the United Way of Knox County and the Knox County Community Foundation for funding the majority of the operation but says there is still a need.

This year particularly, Carmean says KETA is in need of two things — specifically, backpacks and volunteers.

“As they say, many hands make light work,” she said, smiling.

KETA relies on a large team of volunteers to organize supplies before the event, help with student sign-in on the day of the supply pickup, and to serve as personal one-on-one shoppers.

“A volunteer goes through with each child, helping them pick out their own items,” Carmean explained, noting that with 600-700 students anticipated, a lot of assistance is needed to make the operation run efficiently.

Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to visit the KETA website for more information, or, says Carmean with a laugh, “just show up and we’ll put them to work.”

And donations, she said, can be dropped off at the First Christian Church, located at 319 Broadway St.

“We accept supplies and monetary donations year round,” Carmean said. “We’ll always take them.”

The school supply giveaway will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 31, inside the Washington Learning Academy, located at 2134 Washington Ave. Sign-in begins at neighboring Gregg Park at 9:30 a.m.

All K-12 Knox County students are eligible for the program, but parents are asked to pre-register online by July 23 to ensure their child will receive a backpack.

For information about the program, visit www.ketakids.com.

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