As families across the country rushed to get their kids ready for the new school year, a Southern Baptist entity and its partners helped prepare a community of refugees in Georgia for the 2019-2020 school year by handing out thousands of backpacks, shoes and other supplies.
Send Relief, the mercy and compassion arm of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, held a “Back to School Party” earlier this month at its new ministry center in Clarkston, an Atlanta suburb of about 13,000 comprised of thousands of refugees.
Thanks to donations from over 200 different churches and multiple ministries and organizations, over 2,100 backpacks and over 35,000 school supplies were given out to children on the morning of Aug. 3, two days before local public schools went back into session.
Thanks to a donation from a shoe company, over 540 shoes were also given to students at the event, while a total of 1,500 bibles were also distributed.
According to the Send Relief, 91 people received full health screenings at a medical clinic sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Council and 70 people received prescription reading glasses. As many as 35 people received haircuts.
“We always want to be careful. We don't want to foster unhealthy dependency and we don't want to be known to just giving out free stuff all the time,” Trent DeLoach, the manager of Send Relief’s Clarkston Ministry Center, told The Christian Post
“But due to the cost of school supplies and knowing that the majority of our neighbors have large families — six to 10 kids is quite normal — that is a significant expense. You go to the county public school’s website and click on school supplies, you could easily spend up to $90 per child if you purchase everything they say is needed.”
The town of Clarkston has become a popular site for the resettlement of refugees since the early 1980s due to its proximity to public transportation and less expensive cost of living. Although many who attended the Back to School Party were from refugee families, not all were refugees since the event was open to all families in the community.
Send Relief is an organization that aims to provide resources, training, education and events to help churches engage in relief work for those in crisis. In May 2018, NAMB purchased the property of Clarkston International Bible Church as part of a partnership to replace the church’s aging buildings.
Throughout the years, CIBC has partnered with organizations to help the Clarkston refugee community. For the past 10 years, the church has hosted the Back to School Party, which has become one of its biggest events of the year. And for the last two years, NAMB and Send Relief have come on as major partners in the event.
“[This] shows a tangible way that our church cares for the whole city,” DeLoach explained.
In addition to the giveaways, the Back to School Party also offers fun things for kids to do such as moonbounces, snowcones and other carnival-like activities. The event also gives those who attend and are eligible the opportunity to register to vote.
“It is a holistic event more than just school supplies,” DeLoach added.
DeLoach estimates that at least 2,000 children came out with their parents to the party on Aug. 3, the largest crowd ever for the event.
“Last year was the first year with Send Relief’s partnership we were able to give out legit backpacks,” DeLoach said. “Apparently word spread.”
According to DeLoach, the shoes that were given out were a generic brand modeled after Crocs. The shoes were donated through a member of the Clarkston church that works for a shoe company.
Since the Back to School Party has become somewhat of a tradition in Clarkston, people began lining up as early as 7:30 a.m. on Aug. 3 even though the doors didn’t open until 9 a.m.
“By 9 o’clock, the line is outside the building and wrapping around a bit of our property,” DeLoach recalled.
“When the doors open, we do try to get everybody’s information as they are checking in. We find out how many school-aged children and their ages and their name and address. And we do ask if there is a church that they attend or if they are interested and want more information about local churches. Just in our space, we share space with four other churches. There are five expressions worshiping in multiple different languages.”
The ministry center is home to Sudanese, Pakistani, Conogles and Nepali congregations.
“If people check that they are interested in more information [about church], we have the means to follow up,” DeLoach said. “We are also very respectful of our neighbors from various faith backgrounds. So we don’t force anything on anybody.”
The Back to School Party would not be possible if it were not for the gracious donations from ministry partners and volunteers, DeLoach stressed.
“Sometimes it comes across like Send Relief is doing all of this on their own,” he said. “Everything we are doing in Clarkston is in partnership with churches and like-minded ministries. It is this beautiful, kingdom-minded collaborative effort to do more together than we can do separately.”
Throughout the year, Send Relief partners with other ministries and organizations to offer free services to the refugee community in Clarkston, such as a food distribution once a month through an organization called Hope for the Hungry. At that distribution, families can get $50 in groceries.
Send Relief also partners with ministries to provide English classes to help those in the community learn the language.
“There is a family of 10 different ministries that are operating out of our existing structure,” DeLoach stated. “The future will be an expansion of that where Send Relief will continue to share space with a family of churches and a family of ministries that will have a cohesive strategy to help people. … We want to model what ministry in a diverse area can look like so that other churches and ministry centers can replicate and learn from our example while we learn from their example.”
“For the most part, refugees in Clarkston feel welcome,” he added. “I can’t say that is the case across the board in all cities but I love the fact that Clarkston and our church have gone to great lengths to make sure our international neighbors feel loved, welcomed, affirmed and appreciated. That is true of all of our international neighbors.”