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Convoy of Hope offers help to thousands

September 25, 2010|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI
  • Volunteers distribute bags of groceries to guests Saturday at the annual Convoy of Hope at Fairgrounds Park in Hagerstown.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN -- The activity Saturday morning at Fairgrounds Park was the picture of efficiency.

More than 1,200 volunteers for Hagerstown Convoy of Hope descended on the park at 7 a.m., registering and gathering for cheerful direction from their leaders. Within minutes, they had split with precision into groups to serve areas designated for providing free haircuts, family portraits, meals, information on community resources, medical screening, children's entertainment and more.

A contingent of more than 100 people charged with preparing bags of groceries fell into a moving assembly line. They smiled and greeted one another as they marched from case to case, quickly filling thousands of bags with carefully appointed items.

But to the more than 4,000 guests who converged on the scene beginning at 9 a.m., Convoy of Hope was far more than just an exercise in efficiency. It was an unconditional gesture of encouragement and compassion.

Curt Snyder, coordinator of Hagerstown Convoy of Hope, said the event, now in its third year, has had "a really positive impact."

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"People look forward to (Convoy of Hope). There is a lot of talk about it before it even happens," Snyder said. "It unifies the community, not just for the guests we serve, but for the volunteers as well."

Convoy of Hope is an international, faith-based organization with a mission to "deliver much-needed food, supplies and hope to the impoverished and suffering," its website says. Snyder, lead pastor at LifeHouse Church Bethel, said more than 60 area churches joined forces for the Hagerstown event.

"It is a mandate of God in the Bible to help your fellow man," Snyder said. "This is one thing we can do in a very tangible way to touch people with the good news, the gospel. It's a way we can touch the community that goes beyond the lip service that many times people get."

Erinn Devine of Hagerstown, a guest at the event, said she was "totally moved." She works two part-time jobs, but has trouble getting enough hours to make ends meet for herself and her two teenage daughters. Plus, she recently has had some health problems.

"I walked in and saw all these things they were offering, and everybody was saying, 'Hi. Come in. We're glad you're here,'" Devine said through tears. "Some nice lady came up to me and asked me if I had anything I wanted to pray about. I told her I wanted to pray that my mom will get better. She lives far away and I don't get to see her."

Devine said she was touched by the songs of a contemporary Christian band that played and overwhelmed that she received groceries, a new pair of shoes, a haircut and a family portrait.

Juan Briscoe, 51, of Hagerstown, had heard positive things about Convoy of Hope last year. He attended Saturday along with his mother and aunt, and his sons Juan Jr., 7, and Jesse, 5.

Briscoe suffers from a back problem. He received a free massage in the medical tent, in addition to vision and blood pressure screenings and dental care.

"They have all the information you could ever need for resources in Hagerstown, and everything here you could ever ask for as far as the kids. And it's all free. Nothing compares to this," Briscoe said.

After receiving lunch and making their way to tents of their choice, guests exited Convoy of Hope through a prayer tent, where they had the option to pray with volunteers.

"(Convoy of Hope volunteers) just offered to pray if you wanted to. The choice is yours," Briscoe said. "But even if you are not a religious person, everyone reaches out for something. You gotta touch base with God. You gotta give thanks."

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