When Emily Stewart handed a backpack to 9-year-old Sarah Coppock, Sarah stared at it in awe.
Her mother, Tina Coppock, said, “This is quite overwhelming. When we went shopping earlier this week, she had picked out that very backpack.”
“It’s exactly what I wanted! I liked it because the matching lunch bag hooks onto it,” said Sarah, a fourth-grader this year at Fred L. Wilson Elementary School in Kannapolis.
On Aug. 16, Memorial United Methodist Church invited 28 families from the school to its second Back to School Blast. Along with games and lunch, the church gave the children free backpacks filled with school supplies. At the end of the event, each family also received a pizza to take home for supper.
More than 85 percent of students at Fred L. Wilson Elementary – roughly 340 of its 400 students – qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Many school systems use that statistic as a measure of poverty among its enrolled students, since family incomes below the federal poverty line are required for eligibility.
Last year, the church gave away 130 backpacks filled with supplies to children in the Kannapolis area. But this year, the congregation wanted to have a more focused impact.
“This year we wanted to focus on the connection, the relationship, with individual kids,” Stewart, a church member who volunteered at the event, said.
“We wanted to identify the kids so that we could know what grade they were going to be in, so that we could pack the backpacks with supplies specifically catered to them,” Stewart said.
A church committee compiled the needed supply list for each child, but it didn’t stop there. Committee members called the families to find out about any siblings – even those that didn’t attend Fred L. Wilson – and then contacted those children’s teachers for customized supply lists to pack a backpack for them.
The 74 backpacks loaded with the needed supplies also included an event-themed T-shirt, a kickball and an age-appropriate book.
Mandi Campbell said she is excited to have this connection with the church as she begins her first year as principal of Fred L. Wilson.
Church members began volunteering at the school last year when Memorial decided to focus its efforts on its own neighborhood and realized the school was nearby.
The Rev. Jim Brookshire invites all churches to focus on their neighborhoods.
“We are called to make a difference, and I think we can solve some problems in our own neighborhood,” he said.
“All I want them to know is that we are here and that we can be a good neighbor,” said Brookshire. “Relationships can make a difference, and we can make this neighborhood a better place.
“If every church focused on their neighborhood, then the community will get what it needs as well.”
Kannapolis native Louie Coppock and his wife, Tina, brought their four children to the event.
“ ‘Overwhelmed’ is the right word,” Coppock said. “Looking at my four kids, I can see that this is hundreds of dollars worth of stuff. Think of all the meals you can buy with the money saved.
“They (the church) will never know how much this means to me.”