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Churches help thousands get set for ‘back2school’
Volunteer Christy Martin washes the feet of a student during the back-to-school event at The Community Fellowship on Saturday. Washing the children’s feet is a reflection of the church’s ministry. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
A program that provides needy area students with clothes and supplies for their return to school is growing, according to a local minister.
More than 2,100 prekindergarten through 12th grade students were signed up to participate in the “back2school” program held Saturday at five local churches and one in Danville. That is roughly 400 more youth than participated last year, said Michael Harrison, lead pastor of The Community Fellowship in Collinsville.
Harrison estimated, however, that at least 2,500 students ultimately would take part in the giveaway this year, including ones allowed to go through the items that remained after the ones who registered took what they needed.
This was the first time in the event’s six-year history that unregistered kids were allowed to participate. Michelle Kasey, an event planner for the Collinsville church, said organizers want to make sure needy children receive assistance.
Enough donated clothing and supplies were on hand to serve at least 3,000 kids, Harrison said. Any items remaining after the giveaway will be donated to area schools, he said.
The Community Fellowship coordinates the event each year. The number of participating churches rose from three to six this year, including Danville First Pentecostal Holiness Church.
This was the first year that a church outside Henry County and Martinsville participated. Harrison said the Danville church heard about the program and asked to participate because it is “in the heart of the downtown area where there is a lot of need” among residents.
Other participating local churches were Mount Calvary Pentecostal Holiness Church, The Church at Mercy Crossing, CrossPoint Church and Fairway Baptist Church.
At the giveaway, students and their accompanying parents or guardians selected a few articles of donated, gently used clothing.
Each student received a new pair of socks and shoes. Before shoes were placed on students’ feet, volunteers washed their feet and talked to them about their aspirations.
Foot-washing shows modesty in serving someone in need, following the lead of Jesus Christ, who washed his disciples’ feet, according to organizers.
The churches wanted students to learn about Jesus and his compassion so they will be hopeful that they will overcome tough times, Harrison noted.
Before leaving, each student was given a bottle of water and a new backpack containing school supplies, according to Harrison. The supplies were donated by people in the community.
Students also could receive free haircuts.
Shante Dandridge and Melvina Hairston, both of Martinsville, are single mothers who brought their children to Mercy Crossing for the event. Both women said they were laid off from their jobs and would not have been able to afford to buy clothes and school supplies for their kids this year.
“It’s a good program,” Dandridge said, adding that she and her children are “thankful for everything we got.”
Children were told the story about Emmanuel Ohonme, who while growing up needy in Africa was befriended and given a new pair of shoes. That inspired him to become successful in life and help others in need.
Ohonme, who eventually became a corporate executive, started Samaritan’s Feet, an organization that provides new shoes to needy people. Hairston said she found his story to be inspiring.
Sherry Batchelor was one of about 200 volunteers helping with the giveaway at The Community Fellowship. Her 14-year-old son, Kelby, was among the youth who received free items.
“It’s awesome,” Batchelor said of the program. Without the churches’ help, she said, “a lot of people in the community would be hurting.”
More than 1,000 volunteers of all ages and various religious denominations helped with the event at the six churches.
“Everyone does it with a smile on their faces,” Kasey said. “Nothing touches you like serving a child.”
Seventeen-year-old China Biggs volunteered at The Community Fellowship as she has each year.
“I just like seeing the kids smile,” she said. “They’re just thrilled to get a new pair of shoes.”
The giveaway “demonstrates the love of God to the community,” Biggs said.
Harrison said he hopes to see the event grow to include more churches — both locally and throughout southern and southwestern Virginia.