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Back-to-School Block Party in its fourth year of helping kids

August 20, 2011|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI | alnotarianni@aol.com
  • Mary Jane Younker helps third-grader Kathy Dominquez with school supplies at Back-to-School Block Party held Saturday at Washington Square United Methodist Church.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Jonathan Disla is a little nervous about heading back to school this week.

Besides the typical end of summer jitters, he's heading into a transitional time — his first year of middle school.

But thanks to a coalition of churches in Hagerstown's West End, one thing Jonathan doesn't need to worry about is school supplies.

Jonathan, 11, of Hagerstown, went to the Back-to-School Block Party on Saturday behind Washington Square United Methodist Church, where he received all of the binders, folders, paper, pens and pencils he could need.

"I think it's cool how (the churches) help people because, like, some people don't have that kind of money to buy a lot of stuff," said Jonathan, who will attend Western Heights Middle School.

His mother, Jenny Abreu, 35, has two other children, ages 15 and 16, to provide for in addition to Jonathan. Abreu said she had some notebooks at home, but she didn't have any other supplies or the money to pay for them. She called the block party "a great opportunity."

"This was a help. A big help," Abreu said.

The Rev. Jerry Lowans of Washington Square United Methodist Church and St. Matthew's United Methodist Church said the block party, now in its fourth year, is the effort of a handful of neighborhood churches along with secular organizations.

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Besides passing out school supplies, the party offered free food, children's games and live music. Public-safety workers provided fingerprinting, canine demonstrations and fire-safety information.

The Rev. G. Stanley Steele of St. Mark's Lutheran Church said he hoped the party would help children start thinking about school and get off to a good start in the upcoming year.

"For a child to go to school and not have pencils, paper, glue, crayons, it's embarrassing, and it's just not helpful," Steele said. "We want them to be ready to get into that which is so important. To be educated, to learn and to grow."

Steele said it's part of the churches' faith "to care and to serve."

"It doesn't matter if we are Lutheran or Methodist or Baptist. We are motivated by faith to do what God calls us to do," he said.

Pat Kelly, an organizer of the event, said the block party served about 350 families and 600 children.

Lolita Spangler, 34, of Hagerstown, got school supplies at the party for her son Isaac, 3, who will participate in Head Start, and Samuel, 7, who attends Paramount Elementary School.

Spangler said she is a 10-year military veteran who served in Kuwait. Separated from her husband and recently unemployed, she is taking college classes while she hunts for a new job.

"We are not totally starving, but it's difficult," she said. "This was great. They had everything you could possibly need here for school."

Spangler wasn't content just to receive. In one hand, she clutched bags full of items she got for her children. In the other, she held bags with shoes to give away.

"My son outgrew them, so I want to pass them on to someone else who can use them. Absolutely," she said.

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