ROCKVILLE – As the children entered a room filled high with backpacks, lunch bags, books and other school supplies, their eyes widened. Some quickly grabbed their favorites; others slowly checked everything out.
The Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless annually holds its Back to School Fair to ensure that the 300 children it serves will enter the new school year with the supplies they need for a successful year.
For the fourth year, the event was held at Faith United Methodist Church in Rockville.
The children also played bingo, made beaded bracelets, and received balloon sculptures. The lucky children won one of several raffled gift certificates, including to local grocery stores.
The fair enables the children to walk away supplies and the feeling that, “You are valuable. You are precious,” explained Lynn Rose, the coalition’s community engagement specialist.
Thanks to donations of money and supplies, the coalition did not spend any money on the event.
The coalition’s website included a list of the items needed and time slots for volunteers to help. Several days before the event, most of the supplies had already been dropped off and the time slots filled.
One donor paid for 40 pizzas.
The filled backpacks were separated into two piles, one for young children and the other for those in middle school and older.
Still, the children went around to various tables to collect reading books; notebook paper; boxes of pens, pencils and markers; erasers, pencil sharpeners; index cards; scissors and rulers.
“It helps me dramatically. I mean, it’s a life savior,(saver)” said Sandra of Germantown, who gathered up supplies with her 11 and 15-year-old children.
“It’s a big help,” declared Sharonda of Silver Spring, who attended the fair with her four children, ranging in age from two to 10.
Her six-year-old son, Samir, was most excited to have his own balloon sword.
The students and families benefiting from the back to school fair are served by the coalition and currently live in permanent housing but at one time were homeless, explained Debbie Ezrin, chief development officer.
The families pay a subsidized rent and receive case management services, she said.
Not only can many of these families not afford the necessary school supplies, but they often do not have enough money for any extras. That is why the fair included games and other activities, Ezrin said.
It also is why the children were encouraged to take extra from the bags of chips, cookies and juice boxes so they would have snacks at school, she said.
Addi of Silver Spring and Tiffany of Germantown each came with their four children, most of whom were playing at the outdoor playground while their mothers checked over the supplies.
“We end(ed up) getting everything,” Addi said. “We need it.”
Many of the people attending the fair have jobs they cannot miss, and some do not have cars to bring them there. But with the church accessible by bus and the fair running all day, most people were able to pick up the supplies.
For those who could not, case managers saved them backpacks.
Jean Decker is a member of Faith United Church who eagerly volunteered to help. She staffed the name tag table, where participants could write and decorate the tag with stickers.
“I enjoy watching the children interact,” said Decker of Rockville.
“I am happy to serve in any way I can,” she said.
Kingdom Fellowship AME Church in Silver Spring often partners with the coalition. For the back to school fair, the group donated $1,000, noted Rev. Kendra Smith, who does outreach at the church.
“We thought it was a great opportunity for our church to connect,” she said. “We’ve been blessed, and we want to be a blessing.”
Also attending the event were staff from Imagination Library of Montgomery County, which signed up eligible children younger than five so they could receive one free book a month, starting with “The Little Engine That Could.”
Aetna and Amerigrow each had tables and gave out goodies and supplies.