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Back-to-school event increases clothing donations

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Churches participating in an annual back-to-school event are seeing a 21 percent increase in the number of needy children this year.

As part of Operation Clothe-A-Child, 461 students will receive free clothing and school supplies during a giveaway on Saturday. That is up from 382 last year, said Tom Durrance, pastor of Fieldale United Methodist Church.

The giveaway has been held annually for 31 years and although there have been a few years when the number of children helped declined, the number has risen in most years, Durrance noted.

With many people unemployed locally, he said, families’ budgets are getting tighter, and it is hard for many families to justify buying clothes and school supplies when they have trouble buying food.

Operation Clothe-A-Child is an annual volunteer effort organized by at least 14 United Methodist churches in Henry County and Martinsville. Most of the clothing and school supplies provided to needy children are donated, although a few items are purchased with monetary donations, Durrance said.

Volunteers will be packing bags of school supplies tonight at First United Methodist Church in Martinsville.

From 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, families will visit that church and its nearby warehouse to pick up school supplies and clothes. Families who applied to receive items this year will be sent cards telling them when to arrive.

Families apply to Operation Clothe-A-Child through Henry-Martinsville Social Services and the participating churches. Durrance said every family that fills out an application with all of the needed information gets something.

Assistance is available to families with children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

School supplies include pencils, paper, crayons, notebooks, bottles of hand sanitizer and plastic storage bags. Durrance said students get supplies that are appropriate for their grade levels.

Distributing school supplies — some are donated, others are purchased for the giveaway — is just as important as distributing clothing, he said.

“We (United Methodist Church members) believe that education is one of the primary ways of solving poverty,” Durrance said. “If we can get people more educated, the less likely they will be to end up poor.”

Donations of gently used clothing are accepted for Operation Clothe-A-Child. Clothing also is received from items turned into lost-and-found boxes at local schools and camps. Some is bought at charity shops, consignment shops and yard sales, according to organizers.

Durrance said efforts are made to provide a child with one or two jackets, tops and pairs of jeans. However, that cannot be guaranteed. Depending on what has been donated or purchased, a child’s particular size might not be available in particular items of clothing, the minister said.

“We try to stock as many (sizes) as we can,” Durrance said. “But we are not a department store,” he added, chuckling.

Families have “personal shoppers” from among volunteers who help them select appropriate clothing items for children, Durrance said.

It is stressed that volunteers be courteous to families.

“We treat people like we would want to be treated” if they were in the same situation, Durrance said, noting that Jesus Christ taught people to treat each other with kindness and generosity.

When a family receives items from Operation Clothe-A-Child, it is asked not to seek back-to-school items from other assistance providers, too. Durrance said there are many local children beyond the 461 that the Methodist churches are helping who also need assistance.

It is not too early to start thinking about next year’s Operation Clothe-A-Child.

The program makes a big push for donations of clothes each March, but a “clothes closet” program at First United Methodist accepts clothes year-round, Durrance said.

Monetary donations have been received from participating churches and the Martinsville Area Community Foundation, and donations from the public are welcome. Checks can be mailed to Operation Clothe-A-Child, c/o Bassett Memorial United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 408, Bassett, Va. 24055.

As far as donations go, “anything we get now will go toward next year,” Durrance said.

Based on need in the community, he said, “I think we’re going to be doing this (program) for a while” into the future.


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