Lazy days of summer maybe the norm for some people but not for the congregation and supporters of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church’s (Grace) Back to School Event. For the past 4 years Grace has hosted a Back to School event at their location on the southern side of Reading, PA.
This community project started when 4 congregation member volunteers agreed to assist on a project suggested by Rita Wilk at church council. Rita’s dream was to hold an event open to all community members where needed school supplies and backpacks could be given out to students. Donations were obtained from the congregation of Grace along with other churches within the West Berks Mission District. Reaching our targeted recipients was simplified by piggybacking on the resources established by our Growing with Grace Tutoring program. This tutoring program serves the 2 elementary schools within a few blocks from our church location. In addition local press releases were issued to inform the community.
In its infancy, this 1 day event, allowed us to reach about 120 students with new and used backpacks / bags filled with school supplies. A limited amount of new underwear was given out as well. Families stuffed a bag with gently used clothing and ate a lunch.
Assessing the event after the first year, the church felt the event was of value to the community we serve and to the school students in the Reading School District. The strength of partnering with our Growing with Grace Tutoring program contacts enabled our success.
To make a greater impact, additional funds were needed to expand the number of backpacks and supplies offered. Financial funding was secured thru corporate donations, grants, and individual donor donations. Over the last 3 years, grants have been written and granted from Northeastern PA Synod, Thrivent, and Walmart. Grace’s congregation members have supported this project with monetary donations and through memorial contributions. Families within our church community have adopted this project as their family holiday project yearly, proving significant financial support and volunteer man hours. Our sister churches in the West Berks Mission District have supported our efforts both with supply collections and monetary donations. Reaching out to another Growing with Grace Tutor program contact, the United Way of Berks County – Ready Set Read program, allowed for new or gently used books to be distributed to event attendees. This past year the United Way also coordinated the collection of school supply donations thru a local company, Penske Truck Leasing.
From all of this a record number of backpacks were distributed this year – 250 new stuffed backpacks. Our expanded efforts allowed for growth in our impact to 5 elementary schools and 1 junior high school, in addition to hosting the event at our church. New underwear and socks were distributed to over 180 children. Gently used clothing was offered again and an expanded healthier lunch with multiple choices completed the on-site activities this year.
We do all of this because having the correct supplies to foster a sound education experience is critical to a successful outcome. These supplies will impact a child’s academic performance and long term self – esteem. Having the basic supplies to work on their assignments fosters a positive self-image allowing the student to be proud of accomplishing a task.
A teacher whose class benefited from our program tells us that children are unable to finish assigned homework because of the simple fact they have no pencil or pencil sharpener. If we can stop this from happening our time and efforts have been well spent.