By Rev. Mallory Forte Nickerson
Almost seven years ago, a group of United Methodist pastors and laypeople committed to helping families in Lancaster County had an idea to help people begin the school year with a little help. They reached out to other churches, both United Methodists and other denominations, as well as businesses and organizations in the community to make it happen.
Since then, the effort has continued to grow, and many churches, local businesses, community organizations and individuals have continued to come together. The sixth annual Lancaster County Back to School Bash was held July 30.
That day, more than 800 students from pre-K to 12th grade were given a new pair of shoes and a backpack with school supplies. Also, 120 children got haircut vouchers.
This year, the Back to School Bash partnered with the Lion’s Club in Lancaster to provide free eye exams. Of those screened, many referrals for glasses were offered and at least one surgical case was identified, which will be covered by the Lion’s Club as part of their mission.
Belair, Osceola, Pleasant Hill, First-Lancaster, Hopewell and Church of the Good Shepherd UMCs were all involved in collecting donations and volunteering for the bash. Cultivate Health Chiropractic organized a backpack drive to collect brand-new backpacks for the event. Shoes and supplies were purchased from the donations received.
At the bash, children and youth are fit for shoes, offered prayer for the school year and their families and given backpacks while supplies last. None of this would be possible without a continued rich relationship with Lancaster County Parks and Recreation, which provides leadership, event space and staff support.
“Need has really driven the numbers this year,” said Rev. Mallory Nickerson, event coordinator. “We probably had two-thirds of the people we served lined up an hour before we even opened the doors, which is a good indicator of the financial hardship we are seeing, especially now. Every item we purchased for the event cost around 30 percent more than in the past, which means that is the additional burden on families too.”
The Back to School Bash is as much about hospitality and loving neighbors as it is about providing a service. Across the morning of the event, nearly 100 volunteers offered warm greetings and prayers as they also offered a few items to hopefully lighten the burden of hundreds of families in the Lancaster School District.
Back to School Bash partners included Belair UMC, Cultivate Health Chiropractic, Founders Federal Credit Union, Hopewell UMC, Lancaster County Government, Lancaster County Parks and Recreation, Lancaster Lion’s Club, Lancaster Rotary Club, Osceola UMC, Pleasant Hill UMC, Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, Residents of Sun City Carolina Lakes, Southern Spirits, The Springs Foundation and Van Wyck Presbyterian Church.
Nickerson pastors Belair and Osceola UMCs.