By Kara Witherow, Advocate contributor
Thanks to Leesburg United Methodist Church, more than 200 Lee County schoolchildren walked into school Friday, Aug. 5 with full backpacks, fresh haircuts, and new-to-them clothes.
The church’s inaugural Community Back to School Bash, held Sunday, July 31, was a fun family event designed to help relieve some of the back-to-school burden families may feel.
“We realize that preparing for school can be financially challenging,” said Leesburg UMC Children’s Director Hollyanne Craft. “We wanted to help alleviate some of the stress by sending students back to school with confidence – with a fresh haircut, school supplies, new underwear, socks, clothes, and an afternoon of fun. We wanted to help set the stage for a great school year for students.”
The event was funded by generous congregants, community partners, local businesses and churches, and a $1,500 grant from the South Georgia Conference’s Bishop’s Initiative for Children and Poverty.
Beginning in May, the first Sunday of each month was dubbed “Undie Sunday.” Worshipers brought packs of new socks and underwear and placed them in collection bins. The donated items, along with clothes from the church’s clothing closet, were given out during the Back to School Bash.
“We had a ton of kids and families who came through our clothes closet and picked out back-to-school clothing,” said Rev. Lee Smith, pastor of Leesburg UMC. “It was all about helping those families who needed help.”
Also at the Back to School Bash, representatives from the Lee County Library System registered children and parents for library cards, the Gideons distributed free Bibles, and nine barbers and hair stylists gave free haircuts to children. Bounce houses and free food stations were set up across the street at the Baptist Church.
Partnering with the community and other churches to put on the event was great, said Rev. Smith.
“We just wanted to give kids the things they need and let them have some fun before they go back to school,” he said. “It’s good to do things together for the kingdom of God instead of competing against each other. It was neat to have everyone there.”
Church leaders said they plan to have the Community Back to School Bash next year, and it’s just one way the congregation reaches out to serve those in its community.
“At Leesburg United Methodist Church, we strive to love God and one another, care about our community and make a difference in this world,” Craft said. “We continually look for ways to reach out beyond the walls of our church to help others.”