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Convoy visits Hagerstown with hope for those who need help

October 18, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN -- Every morning, Sandra Brown pulls herself out of bed, fights off fatigue from working two jobs and shoulders the burdens of the day.

There are bills that keep piling up, cupboards with little food and no health insurance.

As a single parent, Brown feels particularly vulnerable.

"I can do without, but I don't want this kind of life for my child," she said. "I've had to swallow my pride more than once to get the help we need."

Brown knows she's not alone. As the economy has tightened, she has friends who cannot pay their rent and have spent the past year looking for employment.

"Sometimes you feel like you're drowning and no one is throwing you a life jacket," the Hagerstown woman said.

Saturday, she found a bit of relief.

Brown was among the thousands of people who showed up for the Convoy of Hope at E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

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Convoy of Hope is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to transform entire communities with compassion, one life at a time.

The group mobilizes and trains churches and organizations to conduct outreach programs and respond to disasters in the United States and around the world.

Convoy of Hope came to Hagerstown thanks to the initiative of Patrick Grach, pastor of LifeHouse Church, who was familiar with the group's work.

He soon was joined by dozens of other churches, agencies and businesses that partnered to bring free food and services to Hagerstown.

"This year, Convoy of Hope has visited 30 cities in the United States," said Jonathan Belotte, media leader for Saturday's event. "For Hagerstown to be one of them is phenomenal."

Saturday's event included free groceries, health information and screenings, drug and alcohol counseling, and even free haircuts. There also was a kids zone and live entertainment.

Belotte said about 4,000 people were expected to take advantage of the free services. More than 1,000 people had arrived within the first hour. Two tractor-trailers rolled into Hagerstown prior to Saturday's event and 500 volunteers helped unload and repack the free groceries that were distributed to local people in need.

Belotte said the event drew a cross section of area residents -- from families with five or six children to the elderly who lived alone.

"Need doesn't know age or gender," he said.

Belotte said organizers are interested in bringing Convoy of Hope back to Hagerstown.

"The turnout has been overwhelming," he said. "We weren't sure what to expect. But the community really stepped up in getting the word out. This is something we definitely would like to do again."

Josephine Thompson of Hagerstown was among those who attended Saturday's event.

"I'm unemployed and something like this is a big help," she said.

Thompson said she came for several of the health screenings, as well as the free groceries.

Mike Jacobs said the free food "definitely was a draw," but he also was interested in the health screenings.

"I don't have insurance," he said. "I know I have some health issues that I've ignored because I don't have the money. This is a real blessing."

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