By Chelsea Quackenbush
Rain fell off and on one Friday morning in late August as the last of the summer days faded away and a hope for a new school year rose in Longview, Texas.
The line of families braving the rain outside First Baptist Church snaked around the corner and down the street as they eagerly waited to pick out new school supplies, uniforms, backpacks and other essential items during the annual School Supply Train, sponsored by Buckner and the Junior League of Longview.
Meanwhile, in the gym of First Baptist, rows of uniform khaki pants and polo shirts in all sizes hung from clothing racks, beckoning to be donned by children from preschool to eighth grade. Hundreds of colorful backpacks – red, pink, white and black – lined the entire back half of the gym.
Faces lit up when kids were presented with their brand-new backpacks, which were filled with every kid’s dream supply list. Parents graciously thanked the volunteers handing them out.
“The School Supply Train is a vital ministry and a vital part of Buckner working with Junior League, and working with First Baptist,” said Buckner volunteer and Longview resident Libby Black. “(It is a) huge community event that brings families from every single district in our community together to receive all the necessary things before school starts. Moms feel they can provide and send their kids to school on the first day, fully prepared for school.”
As any parent knows, the school supply list is long. When a working single parent has to buy for their three kids, the cost can be unbearable.
There were 3,200 backpacks handed out at the School Supply Train by the end of the damp August day. Health and dental screenings, eye exams and haircuts also were offered for free.
But the School Supply Train is only a snapshot of a bigger picture of how Buckner helps families in Longview.
In East Texas, it would be rare to see images of starving children and stray dogs roaming the streets, looking for food and shelter like one might see in the evening news. But there are hungry kids. There are families struggling to make ends meet, even after working two or three jobs.
They are known as the “working poor,” according to Longview Community Transformation Center director Jane Ann Crowson, and many of them are barely getting by.
The Longview CTC helps families with new clothing, food, diapers and other daily necessities in the Client Assistance Center. It served 1,550 individuals during the last quarter (July through September), an increase over the previous quarter.
Amber Hordge, a 24-year-old mother of two, works part-time while her mom watches her 3- and 5-year-old kids. She’s found clothing for herself and her kids at the Client Assistance Center.
“It gets hard sometimes,” she said. “Sometimes you just need a little help.”
And that’s exactly what Buckner aims to provide working families – a little help.
During the summer months, Buckner partners with the East Texas Food Bank to provide free lunches for children in three of the neediest, lowest-income areas of Longview. Buckner served 2,300 meals over a three-month period this summer.
“These are children who are fed in the school year with free lunches, but during summer they go hungry because their parents can’t afford to feed them,” Crowson said. “Parents may have a job, and may not even be home that day, and so the children are hungry.
“With this partnership, we serve as the delivery agent. I’ve seen 3- and 4-year-olds by themselves coming out to get their meal. And for some, I’m sure, it’s their only meal of the day.”
“I think one of the reasons why Buckner is one of the places that people go is because of the rich culture and the heritage and the reputation that Buckner has,” Black said. “Families feel secure and feel open and they feel ready to go and to get their services. If there wasn’t Buckner in Longview, then I think there are a lot of families in need that would have nowhere to go.”
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