Backpacks and free food may have been the draw at the Modesto Gospel Mission Back to School Block Party, but the volunteer spirit was the true star.
The Gospel Mission handed out 1,200 backpacks, served 1,700 hot dog lunches and gave 108 haircuts Saturday during its 11th annual block party at its Yosemite Avenue site. The five stylists who volunteered their services to cut hair were so inundated, said Anastasia Carroll, director of development, that they kept snipping for an hour after the event ended at 1 p.m.
She had no count on the number of volunteers, but suffice it to say there were plenty, judging by the way the crowd was moving from the games to the crafts to the food areas. And so many youngsters hopped in the bounce house that it moved several feet.
Checking out the contents of her backpack was 7-year-old Monsserrath Castro. Notebook, pencils, ruler, pens, colored pencils and a sharpener, she ticked off, as she rummaged through her bright pink bag.
“It’s so special,” said the Stanislaus Elementary School student. “I wish I could use it right now, but I have to save it for school.”
The call for donations goes out two months prior to the giveaway, said Garrison Tucker, volunteer coordinator. Churches and other groups that have helped in the past step up and do it again.
The giveaway serves many purposes: Youngsters get backpacks filled with school supplies, and the Gospel Mission gets the word out on its Children & Youth Center. Angela DeConge, youth center chaplain, proudly showed off the center and talked about the 250 youngsters who use it. There’s homework help, tutoring, snacks and art classes from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for children 5 to 17 years old. Children can also play air hockey, pingpong and video games, and watch movies. Two programs are aimed at students in Gifted and Talented Education programs. Pre-GATE is offered from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Fridays and GATE Teen Program from 8:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays.
“We have summer programs,” DeConge said. “We provide snacks to the kids every day.”
Those who have taken advantage of the center over the years become part of the safety net for the younger set.
“They can count on me if they need any help,” said Crystal Herrera, 15, who assists youngsters with their homework and receives schoolwork help herself. The Johansen High student hopes to attend California State University, Stanislaus, and become a teacher.
“I really love kids,” she said.
Other students from Modesto-area high schools volunteer to meet community service requirements, DeConge said.
But Saturday was more about what was going on outside. For Blake Vaughn, 7, it meant waiting in line for a scoop of chocolate-vanilla ice cream dished up by Cindy England and her two sons. Blake is Jamie Mazza’s middle child. The 34-year-old Mazza, who moved near Gospel Mission from across town in April, can see her 15-year-old and 3-year-old also taking advantage of mission programs.
“It’s a nice thing to do,” she said.
April Campbell, who has been involved with Gospel Mission programs for 20 years, takes giving to heart.
“We’re showing the next generation how to serve and give and that there’s not just violence in the world,” said Campbell, who was serving up hot dogs through Denair Missionary Baptist Church.
The Gospel Mission operates a 180-bed emergency shelter for men and women and provides 300 to 350 meals a day for the homeless, clients in its transitional living programs and others. It also serves as a cooling center. Anytime the temperature goes above 100 degrees, Carroll said, the chapel at 1400 Yosemite Ave. is opened as a cooling center.
In addition, it’s working on getting city permits for a women and children’s shelter with hopes of opening it in the fall, Carroll said.
People can still donate backpacks and school supplies by dropping off items at 1400 Yosemite Ave.