More than 3,700 children — most of them local — will be starting school with new shoes and school supplies thanks to the Back2School program.
An initiative of The Community Fellowship, Back2School has grown to include the involvement of more than 15 churches. By this year it has served more than 25,000 children, according to Community Fellowship Pastor Michael Harrison.
Children who had registered last month picked up backpacks filled with school supplies as well as new shoes and socks on Saturday. Volunteers washed their feet, talked about their goals and prayed with them.
Children went through the various stations at 30-minute intervals: hear the story of The Samaritan’s Feet (which provided the shoes) founder Emmanuel Ohonme; get their feet washed, with prayer, and new shoes; pick out backpacks; and then have lunch with their families.
Some sites also offered additional services, such as haircuts.
Getting it ready
About 350 people helped fill the backpacks with school supplies on Tuesday. That was after months of fundraising and collecting donations.
Two long rows of pallets had empty backpacks covered by a long tarp. Each pallet held an exact amount of backpacks, one stack for elementary students and one for the older ones, counted for the church or school where they would be distributed.
Dozens of volunteers manned stations set up assembly-line style. The majority of volunteers formed lines to pick up backpacks and get them filled as they walked through the stations.
The lines ended at a loading ramp, where church vans and trucks took turns receiving their orders.
Before each load was sent off, Harrison, the event’s host, called over church leaders, and he or one of them would pray for the students who would be receiving the bags and the volunteers who assembled them.
Nine-year-old Wes White was one of the people who led prayer — and his was met with resounding applause.
‘Its good to give back’
Several employees of The Results Companies of Collinsville participated.
“Results donated $1,000, so we’re volunteering to come help fill” the backpacks, staff member Aimee Hodge said.
“I think it’s nice, to help the community,” her coworker Domonique Waller said.
“It’s good to give back,” Jamie Dillard said.
Hodge said it took about 30 minutes to walk through the lines getting the first backpack she was carrying filled, but it went faster the next time.
Stevie Byrd if Abundant Life Fellowship in Collinsville was handing out highlighters. In the three years he and his church have participated, “this has really grown,” he said.
A faster process
The farthest travelers were from Welford Baptist Church in Welford, S.C. They arrived Monday and helped set up for two days, including unpacking the shipment of almost 4,000 backpacks. That was quite a job, Harrison said — not only opening all the boxes but also taking each bag out of plastic, then stacking by count.
They left with 194 backpacks and pairs of shoes.
Adrienne Hubbard of The Community Fellowship, the ministry’s coordinator, led work groups to set up as well, Harrison said. He picked up the thousands of shoes, one pair per child, from Charlotte, N.C.
Jackie Poe, former longtime pastor of Mercy Crossing in Ridgeway, now is the pastor if The River Church in Danville.
The River was taking more than 250 bookbags, he said. He and David Watson loaded them, plus shoes and towels, to drive back to Danville.
The use of the towels was donated by Cintas, said Johnny Brown of Mercy Church in Stuart. They would be sent back to Cintas to be cleaned and reused.
Groups from 14 churches were there Tuesday for the assembly, Harrison said.
“Every year we trim some time off” what it takes to fill and send off the bags, said Jessica Hicks of Community Fellowship. Last year’s group finished around 10 p.m., and this year’s, with more bags, finished around 9:30.
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.