A line starts forming before Faith UMC in Dickinson even opens the doors for its Back to School Shopping Spree. “People look forward to it,” Senior Pastor Diedra Walters said.
Church volunteers – Sandra Taylor and Maxine Jones – work year-round to prepare for the big event, buying clothes for school children of all sizes. Taylor’s husband George, lay leader at Faith UMC, drives the women to make their rounds.
“It’s first-come, first-served,” Walters said. “All they have to do is give us their name, the number of their children and their sizes. We try to give two outfits per child until we run out.”
Then, another set of church volunteers greet parents on the day of the Shopping Spree, which fell on Aug. 19 this year. Parents wait in the pews to shop for their children.
Volunteers assist each parent with the process. “We try to make it a nice shopping experience,” Walters said. “Then, we give them a shopping bag to put all their goodies in.”
Before the parents leave, volunteers let them know about other available church services.
Sometimes, book donations round out the offerings. “I tell them reading is like breathing,” Walters said.
She also prays over the families and children, wishing them a safe and productive school year ahead. “It has been very rewarding,” she said. “We want to help our youth – and boost their self esteem.”
Walters was appointed associate pastor at Faith UMC in July 2015, just in time to witness the event firsthand. Rev. Lorraine Brown, Senior Pastor at the time, launched the shopping spree in 2006.
Walters explained why the church started the ministry. Brown had discovered troubling statistics of extremely high dropout rates in a number of Houston area schools.
Brown wanted to encourage students to stay in school – and sending them to class in a new outfit seemed like a good way to start.
“This was something she was very passionate about,” Walters said. “She felt it was a good way to reach the community. She said that we could save lives through education.”
Faith UMC Dickinson has been a steady force in the community providing back-to-school clothes ever since – except for a two-year pause during COVID.
“Some kids we see for the first time,” Walters said. “And there are some kids we see each year.”
She explained that recent closures of discount clothing stores has made shopping for the outreach more difficult.
“But even though it’s been more challenging, we’re still able to serve 60 to 80 families,” she said.
Church members look forward to helping children start school on the right foot.
“This outreach generates a lot of energy,” Walters said. “Some people do the shopping. Others come to pull the price tags off. There are some who come to set up. There are so many opportunities for our congregation and community partners.”
The church is able to make a large impact, even though there are about 30 regulars on a Sunday.
“It doesn’t matter the size of your church,” Walters said. “With the right intention, right heart and God’s help, He can take our little and multiply it. And that’s what tends to happen.”
For the past few months, Faith UMC offered meals to students during the summer break in partnership with the Houston Food Bank. In addition, the congregation made more than 160 “Kidz Pacz” with the Galveston County Food Bank. The program provides ready-to-eat, meal kits for youth during the break from school.
The church is also in its second year of operating a food pantry, Tuesday and Wednesdays, throughout the year.
Walters is inspired by Scripture, when Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand. “We are called to meet the need, to feed the hungry,” she said. “What we learn from that story is it doesn’t matter what you have. It’s God’s providence that solves problems. He takes the impossible and makes it possible. It’s through faith that we meet need.”