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Convoy of Hope delivers donations, devotions

September 26, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

HAGERSTOWN -- Before 7 a.m. Saturday, throngs of vehicles began rolling into the Cannon Street entrance of Fairgrounds Park.

Though it was cool and dreary, a lively and purposeful contingent of more than 1,000 volunteers emerged. They strode down the steps and around the fields, where large, brightly colored tents awaited them.

Most of the volunteers wore shirts bearing the word "hope."

And hope is what they sought to bring to the nearly 4,000 people who flooded the fields and tents throughout the day, seeking everything from food, health care and employment leads to entertainment and prayer at the Hagerstown Convoy of Hope.

Convoy of Hope is a Christian organization that seeks to meet people's physical and spiritual needs in compassionate, practical ways. It trains churches and other groups to conduct outreaches and respond to disasters in the United States and around the world.

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"So many families are discouraged right now," said Melissa Linn, co-coordinator of the Hagerstown Convoy of Hope. "Being able to offer something where you can find resources and bring the kids, feed them lunch and entertain them brings smiles and lightens the load just a little bit."

When Convoy of Hope rolled into Hagerstown last fall with a tractor-trailer full of food, about 2,500 people flocked to the event and 700 volunteers assisted. Following that success, the group immediately began organizing another to take place this year.

"Everybody was just like, 'OK, let's get up and do this again,'" Linn said.

Convoy of Hope moved the outreach from the grounds of E. Russell Hicks Middle School to Fairgrounds Park to accommodate more people, and wisely so. This year, Linn said a group of more than 1,000 volunteers served nearly 4,000 people and distributed 40,000 pounds of groceries. More than 60 area churches participated in the event.

State Sen. Donald F. Munson said he was "very surprised" at the size of the crowd.

"This is huge. The people are really interested in the resources and services available today," he said. "The community services tent must have had a presence of every social service agency in Washington County. This is a really good thing for the community."

An array of services

Long lines of people stood along a fence waiting to register and enter, even as it began to rain. Linn said she didn't think the rain deterred people from attending.

"What (the rain) did make people do is drive instead of walk, so we got a little bottlenecked," she said.

Linn said in the past, Convoy of Hope has served mostly working poor and poor individuals. But the difficult economy has changed that.

"With the economic situation being what it is, many of us have found ourselves in situations of need that we have never faced before," she said. "To provide a service like this is critical to families. Nobody hasn't been hurt by the financial crisis."

Inside the health care tent, families lined up for screening and exams. Among the services offered for struggling families were sports physicals.

"There are students who wanted to participate in sports, but whose families can't pay for the exams," Linn said.

People crowded to the job fair.

"It is a big draw this year," she said. "Unemployed people want to find out what's out there and get connected."

Linn noted the outpouring of support and the sense of unity among community members who shared their skills.

"You can just see it in the array of services," she said. "We have physicians out here, we have stylists out cutting hair. You know, Saturday is a huge day for stylists, but these people took their time off to volunteer."

Volunteer Danielle Moore, 15, of Hagerstown, said helping people was a good experience.

"I hope they'll see God in everything we are doing for them, and that they'll get help for whatever they need," Moore said.

Linn said several families who were faced with eviction found support at the event.

"There were people asking for prayer in the prayer tent because they are facing eviction," she said. "A housing coordinator with (Washington County Community Action Council) met with them to see how they can help. To be able to meet those needs on the spot has been a tremendous blessing."

'Love is out there'

Chris and Annie Ramirez, 34 and 29, of Frederick, Md., said their family is struggling financially. Chris is serving active military duty, and Annie, a Marine Corps veteran, said she is awaiting a pending military payment. Meanwhile, they have children to feed.

"The money is coming, but it's just taking a long time to process and get it through," Annie Ramirez said.

She said she was thankful to get some groceries for her family at the event.

"This is pretty awesome," she said.

James Goodman, 54, of Hagerstown, said he and his family of five liked "the atmosphere" of the event.

"You know, everyone is talking about the economy and people are complaining about no jobs, but you come here and people are just laughing together and sharing with one another," he said. "I love it."

John Beach, 45, of Hagerstown, said he was drawn to the event by the groceries and the prayer tent.

"This is a great thing they are doing, reaching out to people to let them know that love is out there," he said. "If the whole world was like this, the world wouldn't be like it is."

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