West End Back to School Block Party gives children a head start
From left, Luther Brooks took his two daughters, Alazae Brooks, 12, and Aaliyah Brooks, 11, to the West End Back To School Block Party Saturday at Washington Square UMC in Hagerstown. The children received school supplies. (By Joe Crocetta / Staff Photographer / August 10, 2013)
In preparation for the Aug. 21 start, many area families gathered Saturday at the West End Back to School Block Party in the parking lot behind Washington Square United Methodist Church in Hagerstown, where they received a free hot-dog meal, entertainment and school supplies.
West End Ministerium sponsored the event with support from other area organizations.
Kendra Guessford, 30, of Hagerstown, took her five children — ages 4 to 10 — to the event. Guessford said with so many children, it’s difficult to provide for all of their needs as they head back to school.
“They each have a school supply list a mile long, so I find this majorly helpful,” she said. “Without it, I would manage, but this leaves money for other things, like school clothes, that they need.”
Patsy Weigand of Hagerstown, a member of Washington Square United Methodist, said that the church began providing back-to-school supplies for neighborhood kids eight years ago. In that first year, they passed out items to 100 kids.
Each year thereafter, additional churches and organizations in the neighborhood jumped onboard, adding resources and attractions and drawing families from a wider radius, Weigand said.
Jerry Lowans, senior pastor of Washington Square United Methodist Church and St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church and block party chairman, said in recent years families have come from throughout Washington County, as well as nearby Pennsylvania and West Virginia to participate in the event.
The block party this year served 375 children and their families, he said.
“I feel there is a need in this area of the city — a very big need for it. And to bring the other people in this area together, that’s a good thing,” Lowans said. “Absolutely. As long as we got it, we’ll pass it out. I don’t care where they are from.”
Organizers passed out supplies to students based on lists provided by area schools. The church requests supplies from the congregation beginning in May, Weigand said.
“People bring supplies individually, or they bring money, and I go out and purchase what we really need, or what we are running low on,” she said.
The value of supplies passed out to children Saturday was roughly $4,500, Weigand said.
In addition to the churches he pastors, Lowans said the ministerium sponsoring the event includes Asbury United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church, Grace United Methodist Church, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and the Salvation Army Hagerstown Corps. Girls Inc., Western Enterprise Fire Co. and Christian Motorcycle Association also assisted with the event.
Guessford’s daughter, Cara Guessford, 12, a student at Northern Middle School, said she enjoyed a K-9 unit demonstration by the Hagerstown Police Department.
“I like getting the bookbag, the supplies, the food, the fun. This is pretty nice,” she said.
Barb Smith of Hagerstown is raising her grandchildren, Austin Brigham, 6, and Katie Brigham, 5, who attend Winter Street Elementary School.
Smith said without the area block party, providing for back-to-school needs “would be a hardship.”
Amber Holland, 36, of Hagerstown attended the event with her two children, Xavier Holland, 11, and Angela Holland, 9.
But they planned to give the supplies they received to a friend who has six children, and is struggling to maintain a job and housing.
“I look at it this way. The more I give to someone else, the more I get if I ever need it,” Amber Holland said.
Lowans said he believes “God has a way of working through people, even though people don’t recognize it as God.”
“The Bible tells us to love one another. When you love someone, you want to care for them,” he said. “Some people call it love. I call it God.”