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Church to help needy families with school outfits, supplies
RUMFORD -- Summer vacation is still in full swing for local students but many River Valley families are planning ahead for the school year.
However, a number of these families are hurting, due in part to the economy. A recent study said it costs an average of $688 for a student for back-to-school expenses like clothing and school supplies. This added expense can be particularly worrisome to families concerned about putting the next meal on the table.
That is part of the premise behind a one-day free event this Saturday called the Culture of Compassion, which is offering free school supplies, gently used clothing, haircuts, health and dental fair, a lunch, groceries, entertainment and a kids zone.
The Praise Assembly of God Church of Congress Street is holding this event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the DARE baseball field, across from Aubuchon's.
Pastor Justin Thacker said highlights include enough school supplies for 850 students, clothing primarily for elementary school children, and groceries to supply two full meals for 1,500 families.
"People are finding they can't afford the extra expense outside of food stamps. And it's not just people on food stamps.
There will be people there who are fighting foreclosure or find themselves between a rock and a hard place," he noted.
To date, they have 42 volunteers for Culture of Compassion, whose mission is ""Helping people with a heart of compassion."
"We're really trying to stick to people living in the River Valley, especially Rumford, Mexico and Dixfield," noted Thacker.
They will have two large tents for this rain or shine event. They had been trying to find a location indoors in case of inclement weather, but no luck thus far. They will leave the weather in God's hands.
There will be 12 tables, 100 chairs, lots of water on ice, 4,400 hot dogs, 300 packages of hot dog buns and a stage for the entertainment.
It is estimated that they have between $6,000 and $7,000 of product to give away.
Brandy Ledesma is coordinating the event, which has been in the works since February. Volunteers held one of their frequent meetings Thursday morning to update the various parts of this project.
She reminded volunteers, "Note that you are there representing God and our church. Let's practice our smiles."
There are concerns that they will be seeing some people attending who have had suicidal thoughts.
"You never know where someone is at. This is an opportunity to show them that they don't have to feel stuck and homeless.
Look around, we're here to help you," said Ledesma.
Thacker, who taught school for seven years, said this is actually the sixth year of the effort, always held on the third Saturday in August.
This used to be called a Back to School passout, held on Waldo Street. He recalled that in the first year, they were able to help 20 elementary school students. Since then, the program has blossomed.
Like other years, he said he expects people will be lining up for the event well before the 10 a.m. start.
When a family enters the event, they will go to a registration table where their information will be taken by one of the volunteers wearing a yellow "Culture of Compassion t-shirt. A punch ticket will be issued to each family, to be used as a family goes through each of the stations.
The kids zone will feature a Moon Bounce, which will be delivered the night before the event, so volunteers will have to take turns around the clock to "babysit" it at the field.
Next is a table for health and dental education, followed by a place for school supplies and gently used clothing. Then there is an area where four licensed beauticians will donate their time to provide simple haircuts.
Hope, a drug rehab center out of Winthrop, is available to give encouragement with residents struggling with addiction.
Called Teen Challenge, a national organization, they originally helped young people but now also help adults. They also have a choir.
Teen Challenge is a Christian recovery program and a network of Christian social and evangelizing work centers. It is a 12-18 month program geared toward drug addicts, alcoholics, gang members, prostitutes and people with other characteristics that the program considers to be "life-controlling problems," or life endangering addictions.
There will be a prayer table, followed by a table with a free meal including hot dogs. Then there's a table with groceries for two full meals and a craft table.
At the end of the walk through the stations, there will be a survey asking their thoughts about this event. They will also provided with a list of local churches. There will also be a drawing for a prize at the end of the event.
Entertainment will be provided by local bands.
This event is extraordinarily larger than in 2011, when Thacker said they put together back-to-school supplies to help 200 students.
This year, they have more than quadrupled the amount of school supplies -- enough the supply 850 students.
Thanks to the use of the social network, i.e. Facebook, Thacker said they also receiving donations from all over the world.
They received a check from California, and one from a missionary in Chad, Africa.
Thacker said the church started collecting soon after last year's event, purchasing items from back-to-school clearance sales.
Proceeds included a bake/craft/yard sale held on July 14 at Maine Made Furniture; and a bake sale held on June 2 at the Dollar Tree.
Earlier this summer, they received a donation of 2,400 pounds of food through the Good Shepherd Food-Bank.
The church received a donation of $1,000 from Wal-Mart and two gift cards from Hannaford. Marden's donated some clothing and shoes.
Also contributing to the event have been the Rumford and Mexico Baptist churches, as well as other Baptist churches.
"The community has been most generous," noted Thacker.
Cash donations continue to come in.
Ledesma told volunteers at the time they have $865 to work with. But with what is left to purchase, they need $815.99 more.
About that time, Thacker paid a visit to the post office, in anticipation of a check from a Maryland church. Shortly after, he returned, but the check had not yet arrived.
People who would like to donate to this event can do so with checks to Praise Assembly of God, (mark Culture of Compassion), P.O. Box 269, Rumford, ME 04276. People who would like to volunteer at the event are urged to call 364-3856.
Volunteers of the Culture of Compassion of the Praise Assembly of God put together a couple of the 1,500 bags of groceries to be given away at their event this Saturday in Rumford, along with school supplies and clothing for young students. (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)
Seen here is the layout of the stations for Saturday's Culture of Compassion. At top right, Pastor Justin Thacker and a volunteer carry in 2,400 pounds of food donated through the Good Shepherd Food-Bank. Bottom right, volunteers of the church meet to discuss various duties for this large event. (Times photos by Bruce Farrin)