CommonCall: San Marcos Church Blessing Backpacks

Young Volunteers Seek Sponsors to Fill Backpacks with School Supplies

Young Volunteers Seek Sponsors to Fill Backpacks with School Supplies

By Ken Camp May 18, 2018 – BAPTIST STANDARD

SAN MARCOS—First Baptist Church in San Marcos wants to bless local students and teachers—in every way possible.

Melinda Hall, minister to preschool and children at First Baptist, saw an idea on social media a couple of years ago she wanted to bring to her congregation.

Another children’s minister had suggested blessing backpacks of students and teachers immediately prior to the beginning of the school year.

Prayers for students and teachers

Backpacks Filled and Delivered

Backpacks Filled with School Supplies

First Baptist produced laminated tags for the backpacks—one for students and the other for educators. One side of each tag includes affirmation the backpack “has been blessed by a congregation that loves and supports” students and teachers. A prayer is printed on the reverse side.

The prayer for students says: “Dear Lord, open my eyes to see new friends. Open my ears to hear my teachers. Open my mind to learn new things. Open my heart to love others like you do. I want to shine your light in my school. Amen.”

The prayer for educators says: “Dear Lord, enable me to teach with wisdom, for I help shape the mind. Equip me to teach with truth, for I help shape the conscience. Encourage me to teach with vision, for I help shape the future. Empower me to teach with love, for I help shape the world. Amen.”

The blessing of the backpacks proved so popular, teachers who had no other contact with the congregation began to ask to be included.

Fill backpacks with school supplies

This year, First Baptist also blessed students in need at two low-income schools in San Marcos with the gift of backpacks and school supplies.

Hall initially contacted the principal at Travis Elementary, a predominantly Hispanic school where eight out of 10 students qualify for free or reduced lunches based on family income. The principal agreed to identify students who would benefit from backpacks filled with a dozen of the most essential school supplies.

By purchasing 48 backpacks wholesale and buying the school supplies on sale at a discount store, Hall was able to keep the cost per filled backpack under $15.

She set up a table at First Baptist promoting the program and asked members to sponsor a student by purchasing a backpack volunteers would fill with supplies. Members immediately snapped up sponsorships and asked if they could help additional students.

Backpacks sponsored, stuffed and delivered

Hall purchased an additional 24 backpacks, which sold quickly. So, she purchased 24 more backpacks, and members also sponsored them.

“Our people are good about giving,” she said.

She contacted the principal at Mendez Elementary, where 84 percent of the students are Hispanic and 86 percent qualify for free or reduced lunches. The principal eagerly agreed to identify students who would benefit from the backpacks.

Volunteers Deliver Backpacks

Volunteers Deliver Backpacks

Volunteers stuffed the backpacks during an intergenerational missions emphasis weekend at First Baptist Church.

“We delivered 50 backpacks to Travis and 46 to Mendez Elementary on the rainiest day in August,” Hall recalled, noting she had received thank you notes from both schools.

Before the students received the backpacks, members of First Baptist Church joined in praying for those students.

“This year, we not only blessed our own kids’ backpacks, but also all the ones we sponsored,” Hall said. “Our people really got behind it.”

CommonCall: School Fuel Provides ‘Hope in a Paper Bag’

By Ken Camp May 18, 2018 – BAPTIST STANDARD

SAN MARCOS—Every week, students at six San Marcos elementary schools look forward to Friday—and not just because it signals the start of the weekend. That’s the day the children receive a paper sack filled with food, made possible by an organization First Baptist Church birthed.

Each Thursday, volunteers with School Fuel San Marcos fill 671 sacks with enough food for two full meals a day for the weekend, plus snacks. Every Friday morning, parent liaisons at the elementary schools place those sacks in the backpacks of children who rely on the free breakfast and lunch programs at school on weekdays.

‘Important for these kids to know someone cares’

“We serve 115 children every Friday at our school, and they are usually all there that day,” said Connie Perez, parent liaison at Travis Elementary School in San Marcos. “They have figured out they have to be there to receive the food.”

Kathy Hansen Fills Sacks with Food for Children

Kathy Hansen Fills Sacks with Food for Children

Kathy Hansen, a member of the San Marcos school board, was among the volunteers who helped pack the paper sacks for School Fuel recently.

“It’s unbelievable how important it is for these kids to know somebody cares,” she said.

From her 30 years experience as a classroom teacher, she knows what happens when students lack access to healthy food.

“They have headaches. They are angry and irritable. They want to sleep,” she said. “Food is a basic need. If we can help meet that need, we are equipping them to excel.”

A church with a strong missional mindset

School Fuel already was a thriving program when Chad Chaddick arrived at First Baptist Church as pastor three years ago.

“I inherited a church with a strong missional mindset,” Chaddick said. “Our folks see this as a natural extension of the church loving its neighbors. It’s a way to fulfill our call to feed the hungry. It’s an opportunity to give hope in a paper bag.”

Six years ago, Chaddick’s predecessor—Pastor Mark Newton—led a Wednesday evening missions class in which he challenged members to consider ways they could make a positive impact on lives in their community.

As the participants began to research community needs and potential ministries, they discovered more than seven out of 10 students in the San Marcos school district qualified for free or reduced lunches due to family income. They also learned many of those students lacked access to food most weekends.

Proven success

In spring 2013, First Baptist Church launched a three-month pilot ministry with a select group at Mendez Elementary School, where 86 percent of students participate in the free or reduced school lunch program.

The church provided food-filled sacks to 31 students each Friday, and then they evaluated the results. Among 30 of the 31 students, teachers reported improvement in their attitude, grades and attendance, and Monday visits to the school nurse became virtually nonexistent.

Encouraged by the results, representatives from the church met with community and school leaders during the summer break, raising money and enlisting volunteers to launch School Fuel at the beginning of the next school year.

During its first year as a ministry of First Baptist Church, School Fuel served 260 students at two schools—Mendez Elementary and De Zavala Elementary.

Open doors

School Fuel’s leaders soon realized the program could be more effective as a nonprofit organization distinct from First Baptist Church. As an independent nonprofit, School Fuel could apply for grants and receive donations from businesses that would not contribute to the ministry of a single church.

Jenny Mangrum Provides Instructions to Volunteers

Jenny Mangrum Provides Instructions to Volunteers

“That opened a lot of doors for us,” said Jenny Mangrum, a member of First Baptist Church and director of School Fuel.

Even so, everyone involved remains aware of the motivation behind the program.

“We pray before we pack every week, and the volunteers know that,” Mangrum said. “God has blessed, and we have grown every single year since we started.”

Still, Mangrum sees the need for expansion. She cannot bear the idea that some of this year’s students will lack food next year when they leave elementary school.

“We’ve got to get into the middle schools,” she said.

Broad base of community support

From September to December last year, School Fuel attracted 647 volunteers and support from 47 groups, including businesses, a local hospital, university fraternities and sororities, at least a half-dozen churches, service organizations, Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts.

 

It costs $215 to feed one child every weekend for one school year, said Nancy Smith, a member of First Baptist Church and treasurer for School Fuel.

Smith, who retired after more than three decades in public education, understands the importance of providing students with the food they need to grow and remain alert and attentive.

“The teachers are excited,” she said. “They say, ‘I don’t have to keep protein bars and peanut butter crackers in my desk any more for students who come to school hungry on Monday morning.’”

Likewise, School Fuel receives positive reports from parent liaisons who interact with students at each of the schools they serve.

“The children think it’s Christmas every Friday,” Smith said.

‘God always provides’

Smith’s husband, Larkin, handles logistics for School Fuel and continues to look for ways to improve efficiency. Originally, the group had to enlist drivers with trucks, vans and sports utility vehicles to deliver the food-filled sacks to schools each Friday morning. Now a moving company—Ace Relocation—pays its drivers to transport the food every week.

Larkin Smith Stocks the Pantry at School Fuel

Larkin Smith Stocks the Pantry at School Fuel

Smith helps his wife receive many of the in-kind donations local residents bring to School Fuel. Because items distributed to the schoolchildren must be uniform size, not every family-sized jar or can finds its way into a student’s sack. But nothing goes to waste.

“We all know where it’s coming from,” he said, pointing heavenward. “Those unusual donations go to meet unexpected needs that arise. We don’t know what the needs are yet, but God does. God always provides.”

School Fuel has received financial support from the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering, and an annual fund-raising banquet and silent auction for the program is held at First Baptist Church.

‘Seek the common good’

The fund-raiser originally filled the church’s atrium. When it outgrew that space two years ago, it moved into the sanctuary—and it may have to find a larger venue next year.

“It has grown exponentially in the last couple of years,” Chaddick said.

Recently, children at First Baptist Church in San Marcos participated in their own fund-raiser for the program. The children painted soup bowls that were auctioned, and all proceeds went to School Fuel. The activity not only raised $1,039, but also raised awareness.

“Most of our kids are not the ones in the school lunch programs—but there probably are a few that are,” said Melinda Hall, minister to preschool and children at First Baptist Church in San Marcos.

Members of First Baptist Church—those who volunteer with School Fuel and those who support it financially—recognize the importance of helping schools and the children they serve, Chaddick noted.

“It’s a practical expression of what God would have us do—to seek the common good,” he said. “It’s clearly an advantage to have an educated population that feeds into the community. That serves the good of the community. It seems obvious to us. …

“It’s just a natural fit for our church. I don’t think there was ever any theological angst about whether it was something we ought to be doing. It’s an obvious need, and it’s a way to show love for our neighbors.”

To view a video about School Fuel and the support the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering provides, click here.

This Week in Fellowship Southwest: What You’re Working On

1f3efd88-a0f7-4c0c-8b68-b6661d81d666One of our largest ministry and advocacy partners is Pastors for Texas Children, and its state affiliates in Oklahoma and soon in Arizona. PTC was able to grow quickly because many churches are already doing the foundational work of serving their local neighborhood schools in beautiful ways.

One of the congregations doing this important work is Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. Pastor Mary Alice Birdwhistell writes about their relationship with their nearby school:

For the past several years, Calvary Baptist Church in Waco has been developing a growing partnership with West Avenue Elementary School, a local school right around the corner from our church, where over 95% of students receive free or reduced lunch. We began our partnership with a handful of mentors reading with children during the lunch hour, and this past year, we have grown to having over twenty mentors reading with over sixty children each week.
Since the school doesn’t have a PTA, they often call on Calvary to help with teacher appreciation and other special events. As Principal A told me recently, “Most of the people at Calvary don’t look like the majority of people in my school, but all I have to do is call, and you always show up – no strings attached.”
But our relationship has continued to grow beyond a 30-minute reading time each week.  At the beginning of the school year, we collected 60 backpacks filled with school supplies for children at the school, and school staff and Waco ISD administrators joined us in worship for a Blessing of the Packpacks. The principal of West Ave., Joe Alexander, often joins us for worship and lets us know how we can be praying for and with him and his school.
On the first day of school or before STAAR testing, we like to surprise the students, teachers, and staff with a high-five wall to share encouragement and excitement to begin their day, and we chalk the sidewalks with hopeful messages to stay with them throughout the week.
We are grateful for the students, teachers, and staff at West Avenue – they are part of our Calvary family. They have welcomed us into their school with kindness and hospitality. What a great joy it is to partner with them in serving our community.

Senior Adults Serve School Across the Street from Church

By Ken Camp, March 16, 2018 – BAPTIST STANDARD

Primetimers from Pioneer Drive Baptist Church

Primetimers from Pioneer Drive Baptist Church

ABILENE—Senior adults at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church in Abilene have provided more than $70,000 in the past 13 years to help students at neighboring Bonham Elementary School.

More significantly, Pioneer Drive’s Primetimers have established deep relationships with the administration, faculty and students at the school, located across the street from the church facility.

“It’s important to have a strong church and a strong school in the area, here in this part of the community,” Associate Pastor Jeff Reid said. “It’s been a wonderful ministry relationship.”

Natural fit for retired educator

Malcolm Brown vividly remembers when his late wife of 62 years, JoAnn, launched the partnership between the church and the school.

“She had worked with children all her life in school,” he said. “She felt like the Primetimers organization needed a good missions outreach, and she suggested we adopt Bonham Elementary.”

As a retired schoolteacher and administrator, she developed an immediate rapport with the principal, who welcomed the senior adults’ involvement.

‘Needed a little extra attention’

One of the first initiatives Brown helped his wife organize was the “lunch buddy” program. About a dozen senior adults spent one lunch hour a week in the school cafeteria with a specific student.

“The principal would let us know about particular students the teachers identified who needed a little extra attention and love,” Brown said.

“The first little boy I sat with was from a broken home. It was an opportunity for me to be a real witness and encouragement to him.”

‘No strings attached’

The Primetimers also began collecting an annual offering for Bonham Elementary to provide a gift “with no strings attached,” Reid said. The first year, the senior adults donated about $1,000, and it has continued to grow significantly each year.

Cumulatively, the Primetimers have donated $70,000, which the school has used both to provide students a fun annual outing and to meet the needs of children from low-income families. About 68 percent of the students at Bonham qualify for free or reduced lunches, based on family income.

Every year before Christmas, students are invited to wear their pajamas to school one day. They board a school bus, drink hot chocolate and travel to downtown Abilene for a screening of The Polar Express at the historic Paramount Theater.

The offering also helps families from the school who are struggling financially to pay for their children’s dentist appointments, pediatrician visits, eyeglasses and prescription medicine.

‘A heart for the students’

The Primetimers also help keep the school supply closet at Bonham Elementary School stocked, and they volunteer in after-school tutoring and reading programs.

“We have a lot of retired educators in our church, and they still have a heart for the students,” Reid said.

Bonham students look forward to the day at the beginning of each school year when they can enjoy the free snow cones the Primetimers serve.

“It’s just a matter of being good neighbors,” Reid said. “It’s a way for our folks and the children to love on each other.”

Once a year, the students, faculty and staff show their appreciation to the Pioneer Drive senior adults by serving them a meal.

“It’s a happy experience for us, as well as for the children,” Brown said.