If Backpacks Could Talk
Whether filled with shoes, groceries or information on tutoring, backpacks provide congregations the opportunity to help children in their community in dozens of ways.
As the Back-to-School season nears, churches are gearing up to “Invest in the Young” through special events, special offerings and ongoing activities to help children be more self assured, nourished, dressed and loved. Many churches have a “blessing of the backpacks,” and some churches might also give students a keychain cross that has been blessed or a jump drive imprinted with the church name for college students, as a reminder they are covered in prayer while at school.
Here are some other ways TAC congregations are meeting these needs and sharing God’s love.
Host a Special Event
Back to School events allow churches a great opportunity for media coverage. According to a story featured on KTRE in July, the First United Methodist Church, Diboll will be hosting their annual community-wide Back to School Bash on Saturday, August 10 from 2-4 p.m., or until supplies run out.
The church offsets costs and involves the community in this bash by recruiting sponsors and providing services via a family-friendly carnival type setting where students can win free school supplies collected from the community. Christie Stephens, young youth director at the church, says hundreds of dollars worth of school supplies are donated each year for the event. "As a teacher, I know how important it is for students to come with their supplies because we go through so many and as a parent I know how expensive it can be. We just wanted to help our parents," Christie adds. Lufkin's Taco Casa will be sponsoring the event. The Diboll Police Department, Taco Casa, Diboll Civic Center, PTSA, Burke United Methodist Church, and First United Methodist Church are all places and organizations that will participate in the event. Drop-off locations throughout the community at an area bank, the school administration office and area grocery stores make it easy for residents to engage in this act of service.
Strawbridge UMC in Kingwood, Tx is pulling out all the stops to create a “tradition” that will be associated with the church. This year’s Bash will include live music, free food, inflatables and activities to accompany the star attraction: a high-flying show by a professional BMX team. “Their back flips and other jaw dropping stunts – and life changing testimonies will keep it real,” says Scott Jagodzinske, student ministries director. Learn more about the event scheduled for August 25.
Hand Out Empty Backpacks
For several years, Friendswood UMC has actually distributed empty backpacks to members on one or two Sundays with the list of needed supplies inside. Families/individuals fill up the backpacks and return to the church by a certain date. This is a 10-year tradition according to Gale Towns, Associate Pastor -Missions/Outreach, who expects this year’s number to cross over the 200 mark. “We always encourage folks to bring more supplies than the backpacks can hold so that we can take those extra items to children we serve on our Mexican Mission team over the Thanksgiving break,” he says. The church partners with the Houston Food Bank in the Backpack Buddies program to provide about 100 children with food over the weekends when school is not in session. “We are building relationships with these youngsters and providing them with nourishment and the tools to learn.”
Form a Non-Profit and Partner with Corporations
In an effort to prevent childhood hunger and to provide each child the opportunity to succeed in school and life, Foundry UMC in west Houston started a grassroots program that expanded into a nonprofit called Cy-Hope. The Cy-Hope Backpack Program now fills backpacks weekly with food for needy schoolchildren. In each bag, children find food that will help sustain them through the weekends when school food is not accessible. Cy-Hope currently serves 63 schools (over 1850 children) with the goal of serving all 49 of Cypress area Title 1 schools.
Imagine spending $11,000 on school supplies. First UMC, Orange, has had a Back to School outreach for several years, and served over 400 families last year. This year a group of churches combined resources and collectively bought $11K worth in school supply kits. “For the first time,” notes Rev. John Warren, “we will be able to supply immunizations for free or for a minimal fee.” First UMC Orange is providing all the underwear and socks, and churches with buses are providing transportation. The “Back to School Orange” event provides dozens of volunteering opportunities for area residents and will be held on August 17 from 10am-2pm at a local park.
Adds Rev. Warren, “I am part of a local board of pastors that will continue to create projects to unite the Christian community, making this an exciting time to be in ministry in Orange, Texas!”
Be a Resource
Churches have so much to offer children in their area – from after school activities, mentoring support or school related collections. ChristWay Community Church provided a summer reading program for 29 children at a local apartment complex, and recently supplied them with backpacks full of supplies, as well as a bag of nonperishable food. The church is also preparing backpacks for children in a nearby mobile home park. Additionally, free advice for parents and kids preparing for the new school year is available at www.StatePoint.net on topics such as Life Skills to Prepare for College, How to Get Healthier, Tips on Talking to Kids about Bullying and How to Save on Back to School Shopping.