FHS ‘Picnic’

To fight COVID-19 lunch fears, mom begins campaign resulting in 44 campus picnic tables

  • Maria Hartsell, standing, the Farragut High School mom who drove a campaign to get picnic tables for FHS, joins Ken and Katy Bagdon, owners of The Farragut Table, 10943 Kingston Pike in Farragut, who recently donated a picnic table for the cause. At 4 p.m., Thursday, July 30, the school received 44 tables, with 21 assembled and placed on school grounds including adjacent to the school’s main entrance. - Photos by Tammy Cheek

A Farragut High School parent’s recent call-out to businesses and others in the community to donate picnic tables to the school, to make lunch time safer, received an overwhelming immediate response from the community last week.

By 4 p.m., Thursday, July 30, 21 tables were set up on the school lawn adjacent to its main entrance while 23 more were inside the school waiting to be assembled.

“I think we’re going to end up with about 50 tables altogether, so what we’re going to do is we have various places on our campus where we can spread them out,” FHS principal Dr. John Bartlett said.

“Oh, my goodness, I’ve been blown away by so many people from all walks of life who wanted to donate,” said Maria Hartsell, the mother of a senior and a freshman at FHS who took it upon herself to send letters to businesses, parents and organizations requesting tables.

“It’s been everything from large businesses and small businesses to families that went in together to donate,” she added.

Among them, The Farragut Table, a restaurant at 10943 Kingston Pike, donated a table after seeing Hartsell’s request on the Shop Farragut website.

“We felt it was a GREAT idea, therefore, (we) contributed and sent a table to the Farragut High School,” Ken Bagdon stated in an e-mail to Steve Krempasky, Shop Farragut/Farragut Business Alliance executive director.

“We just like giving back, for one,” Bagdon said Thursday. July 30. “Related to eating and table, it kind of fit with our theme of The Farragut Table in general.

“The small monetary money they were requesting, compared to what it’s going to do for the school, was a great benefit … it’s definitely do-able,” he added, also noting he was impressed a parent — not the school — made the request.

“She’s worked awfully hard at this,” Bartlett said of Hartsell’s efforts. “She’s been a blessing through trying to get these picnic tables, She’s headed this up and has done a fantastic job contacting businesses and getting on it.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the work that Maria has done on this,” he added, also noting he was pleasantly surprised.

“I expected a good turnout of tables — it’s the Farragut community; they are always quick to respond to needs … but she has taken it to a different level. I really, really do appreciate her hard work in this.”

“Last week was particularly challenging time to be a parent or somebody who just cares about Knox County,” Hartsell said. “We had to make that decision about our kids going to virtual school.

“I felt (getting the picnic tables) was a little something that we could do that was good and it was positive, she added. “It kind of took away that stress of worrying about our kids, no matter what we chose.”

The campaign started after Hartsell received an informational e-mail from Bartlett, in which he listed items the school needs — among them were picnic tables — so he could space out students at lunch.

“I was taking a walk with a friend of mine, and we were talking about how it would be so nice to have some normalcy at lunch for the kids,” Hartsell recalled. “So, we said maybe we could see if Dr. Bartlett would let us talk to businesses to see if they wanted to donate. I e-mailed him, and he said, yes, we could run with it.”

She stated in her community letter, sent out July 21, “While all schools are struggling with how to return to school amid this pandemic, Farragut (High School) has a plan to make lunch feel more ‘normal’ for the students and we need your help.

“Our principal, Dr. Bartlett, has requested a ‘picnic table garden’ outdoors,” Hartsell further stated. “He would like to set up as many outdoor tables as possible so the students could eat outside and more socially distanced.

“We are asking local businesses if they would like to contribute,” she continued, noting the tables could be ordered at Walmart.com.

“We had trouble finding tables that were available because of COVID. We found a table for $220 on the Walmart website that could be delivered straight to the school. Dr. Bartlett approved it, we typed up a letter and started with moms.

“It just kind of blown up.”

With four students to a table — 44 tables — 176 students would be able to eat outside and get fresh air, Hartsell said.

“Probably, I’d say they would allow (the students) to be outside more than just for lunch.”

About other uses, Bartlett said, “Our teachers have the flexibility to move them around campus if they need to. The picnic tables would be a good addition to extra instructional space also.

“And we have so many tables I think we’re going to give teachers a chance to sit at some tables in teachers’s areas, too.” he added.