Friendship Baptist Church in Lenoir City hoped to meet the physical and spiritual needs of families with its Back to School Bash.
The fourth annual backpack and school supplies giveaway took place 9 a.m.-noon Saturday at the church. In years past, the event included breakfast and a brief service before families picked up supplies. This year’s effort nixed the breakfast due to safety concerns and asked families to pull up in their vehicle outside for a pre-packed backpack.
“In years past we’ve taken groups of 50 at a time and we knew that was just not going to be possible this year,” Holly Fox, event coordinator, said. “We wanted to still provide for the community as best we could while keeping people as safe as possible. So we came up with the idea to just kind of do a drive-thru this year. So we’ve got it as contactless as possible just with the backpacks set up outside. We have people available to counsel if people would like that — people who want prayer or anything like that.”
Fox said initially there was concern if the giveaway could even happen with COVID-19 in full swing, but members quickly decided canceling or pushing back was not an option.
“School’s going to start and that was the question that we asked, ‘Do we push back?’” Fox said. “Well, school’s not going to push back their start date, and we try to do it about two weeks before school starts so if there’s something that we didn’t have that they needed to get that they still have time to get the rest of their supplies. ... When it became clear that school was going to start on time then we just made the decision to go ahead.
“We knew we were going to have to do it in some form or fashion,” she said. “We just wanted to make sure that we were doing it in the safest way because there are a lot of people who are just struggling right now. So many people have been laid off or lost jobs, and I mean this doesn’t take away all the stress, but maybe it takes away a little bit.”
Helping families was likely as important as ever, Fox said.
“We kicked around every option, but when we thought long and hard about it, not doing it wasn’t an option,” the Rev. Shane Maples, pastor, said. “There’s always a need for this, but we thought particularly this year financially it’s harder on families. We felt like we needed to do it, and so coming up with the best way to do it was our discussion.”
Church members packaged 300 backpacks for giveaway about a couple weeks ago, Maples said. Last year the effort gave away about 250.
Supplies included items like pencils, paper, crayons, folders and scissors. Fox said the church avoided wipes and tissue paper.
“We believe that every person is loved by God and we want to express that as much as we can,” Maples said. “We feel that this is an opportunity for us to serve our community and show them that God does love them, and although we can’t preach to them in a big group this year like we have before, we still want to be there for them to pray with them at their car or share with them the gospel as quickly as we can or as in a safe manner.”
Frances Preston sat on the porch waiting to offer anyone individual prayer.
“We’d like to get to know the people in the community and be friends with the people in the community in order to reach them to Christ, but you have to do what you have to do,” Preston said. “We need people to have the physical things that they need because if people are in the need, you can’t talk to them about their spiritual need if their physical need is not met. We’re just trying to do what we can do like everybody else in this pandemic and just keep moving forward.”