Saturday is the first of two days a projected 4,000 students will have to register for free school supplies at the program Back2School.

The Back2school program prepares children for the upcoming school year with school supplies, backpacks, shoes and socks and prayer and supportive conversation. Among the regional registration sites are The River Church, 120 River Oak Drive, and Moffett Memorial Baptist Church, 1026 N. Main St., both in Danville.

“You have churches of all denominations,” said the Rev. Michael Harrison of The Community Fellowship in Collinsville, the lead/coordinating church for the program. “People come together for one cause: Share the love of Christ and meet needs” people face.

Registration will be done at 15 sites: along with the two in Danville, most are in Henry County and Martinsville with one in Ferrum and a few in other states.

Last year the program served 2,900 students, according to a Martinsville Bulletin report. This year, the goal is 4,000, Harrison said.

The Community Fellowship started the program in 2007, Harrison said. It’s grown to being staffed by 1,000 volunteers who come from 50 churches.

Dawn Poe, of The River Church, said this is her eighth year involved with the program — she worked with it through Mercy Crossing in Henry County and she “was teaching school there, so I knew firsthand the need that kids had for shoes and school supplies,” she said.

She brought the program last year to The River, where her husband, Jackie, is the pastor. The River served 293 students that first time, she said, “and this year we’re hoping for even a few more than that.”

Moffett Memorial is in its third year with the program, said Janet Hilliard.

“It is an absolutely wonderful and inspiring experience,” Hilliard said. “Our church is just transformed by it. ... Members young and old want to be involved in our community. Neighbors come in to help. It’s just such a privilege to be able to reach out in this way, such a good feeling to be able to serve children and see them go out after that ready and confident to start a new school year.”

Participating churches have to chip $20 per student above the donated materials received; "but the value students will walk out with is between $60 and $80,” Harrison said.

While the school supplies and shoes are the basics, some churches add to it with free haircuts or clothing, Harrison said.

The registration times are from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday and from 6 to 8 p.m. July 23. Students will pick up their supplies on Aug. 3. Special needs students can receive their supplies in a quieter setting on Aug. 2.

The registration ahead of time is required to get measurements of the children’s feet to correctly fit shoes and to get information about their schools and grades to get the correct school supplies ready.

On the day the students pick up their supplies, volunteers will talk with them as they wash their feet.

The idea is to wash each child’s feet just like Jesus did with his disciples the night of the Last Supper. While washing the children’s feet, volunteers talk about positive topics that instill hope within the kids.

The foot-washing was inspired by Dr. Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme, founder, president and CEO of Samaritan’s Feet, Harrison said, adding that Ohonme became a successful businessman who was reminded that someone once gave him shoes and suggested he do the same for others.

To help with costs, Back2School is offering sponsorships at $1,000 level (50 children), $500 level (25 children) and $250 (12 children). Sponsorship entitles donor to various levels of advertisements. The sponsorship deadline is Monday.

All donations are tax deductible. Checks should be made payable to back2school and mailed to Back2School; P.O. Box 388, Collinsville, VA, 24078.

Churches have different ways of contributing financially.

Hilliard said Moffett didn’t do any additional fundraising for Back2School; “The major financial obligations is something that our church does” out of its budget for missions, she said. Additionally, some members have earmarked special donations for the program, and the church did a collection of socks.

On the other hand, The River is asking for donations.

“With Moffett combined, we are hoping to help 600 kids this year,” Poe said. “Twelve thousand dollars is a big chunk of change, so any kind of donation is greatly appreciated. All of that money goes right back into the program to help kids in our area.”

The community-wide “Pack the Bus” donation drive will take place July 19-21 at various locations. School buses will be parked outside some stores for people put donations in.

On Tuesday, July 30, people will fill backpacks with school supplies in The Community Fellowship’s new building, the former American Standard Building System building in Martinsville, Harrison said. Four hundred volunteers did that last year.

For more information, contact emailback2school@gmail.com or call at (276) 565-8234. The website is www.gob2s.com.

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Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

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