BONNE TERRE – By the time the doors opened at 8 a.m. Saturday for Free Stuff for School, the line was already long.
“We got up at 3 a.m. to get here by 5 a.m. to get in line,” said Barbara Chandler who brought her five children to the back to school event and was the first in line. “My husband is laid off and this will really help.”
Organizers had counted on a crowd inside. But they hadn’t counted on a storm outside.
So, quickly, they came up with a plan to get the line out of the rain, handing out numbers to every family and encouraging them to wait in their cars until the doors were opened at 8 a.m. By then, 60 families had received a number.
As it started to pour outside, the first 20 families streamed in.
By the time they were done, Free Stuff for School, a ministry of Centenary United Methodist Church, had provided 430 children from 156 families with basic school supplies to start the school year right.
“We keep thinking we have so many supplies and everything goes so fast so we buy more each year, but though we buy more, we serve more,” said Judy LaBruyere, a former teacher who helps to organize the event each year. “All we can do is try the best we can to give as much as we can.”
They came mostly from Desloge and Bonne Terre, but there were families from Farmington, Valle Mines and Irondale, too.
“We’ve come to this every year since she started kindergarten,” said a mom, “and now she’s starting fourth grade. This year, her little brother is starting kindergarten with school supplies from here.”
Moms, dads, aunts and grandmas came in the door with a number and went out with loaded backpacks. Some had full tummies, too, because a light breakfast was offered.
“We served 11 and a half dozen donuts, along with fruit, muffins, juice, milk and coffee,” said Diane Williams, who organized the breakfast crew.
Children were offered a haircut after a free lice check. Four volunteer hair stylists were kept busy giving 40 haircuts. Marion Shurtliff from Cuttin’ Up Hair in Festus joined Jill Campbell from Donna Ann’s Beauty Salon in Bonne Terre, Stephanie Brenon of TKP Studios in Desloge and Belinda Straughn to give kids a cut.
“This is just wonderful,” said Shurtliff, a first time participant.
“This is a great opportunity to help the community.”
Maryann Baki stood watch as her grandchildren got haircuts. She had stood in the rain waiting her turn to come in.
“Every year I write a thank you to the church and the boys sign in,”
She said. “We appreciate this so much.”
Nancy Neece explained she has taken in a couple of additional kids this year and so instead of just needing supplies for three, she needed them for five students.
“We only got here a half hour before it started because I was not expecting the line to be so long,” she said.
By 8:45 a.m. every one of the 300 backpacks and binders was gone. A Farmington family of five students got some of the last ones. But there were still supplies to give. The last of those went out at just before 10 a.m.
The Bonne Terre church members pick up supplies all year long when they are at their lowest prices. Then, church members donate money to help buy more. This year, Organizer Deborah Volner said they purchased $3,500 in supplies with the last shopping trip taking place Friday night before doors would open hours later.
“Kids are our number one commodity and we should treat them like gold,” said Volner who is also a former teacher. “They are God’s children and I am blessed to be part of this important event.”
As each family left, Rev. Michael Kelpe, the church’s pastor, offered them information about the church and offered a “God bless you.”
Free Stuff for School has been held for the last five years on the first Saturday in August in The Cornerstone, the ministry center adjacent to the church at 20 Park Street.
There was also a back to school fair held at Central High School