GNW churches take on diverse back-to-school projects


Whether it’s filling backpacks for a high-poverty neighborhood school, providing haircuts or supporting teachers or kids in the foster care system, churches across the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church are committed to helping kids and families get back to school now more than ever.

At Kuna UMC in Kuna, Idaho, the church has long hosted a back-to-school haircut night with barbers from a local salon coming in to offer free cuts to kids and families.

This year, the church expanded to add a barbecue picnic and the result was 34 children with fresh haircuts and families fed a nice meal.

“I heard from many parents what a huge difference this made for them. And I loved that church people and the people we were serving were all mixed up together,” said Rev. Mia Crosthwaite.

Mill Plain UMC in Vancouver, Wash., provided teachers with back-to-school supplies.

Mill Plain United Methodist Church in Vancouver, Wash., has a long-standing relationship with Hearthwood Elementary School in the Evergreen School District – even providing volunteer lunch buddies for students over the years as mentors, according to Rev. Sue Ostrom.

When it comes to back-to-school needs, Ostrom said Evergreen School District has been providing students their supplies, so Mill Plain UMC has switched its focus on getting teachers ready to go back to school.

“This year we instead decided to support teachers who often provide items out of their own resources to use in their teaching.  We asked for their suggestions and provided the congregation with brand-name specific ideas such as markers, post-it-notes, sharpies, glue sticks, and plastic bags,” Ostrom said.

In addition, the church’s mission committee voted to give teachers at Hearthwood Elementary $25 gift certificates.

“We know that is a small gift compared to what teachers most likely will spend and we hope it helps a little bit and even more that it is a tangible way of expressing our support to these dedicated and hard-working professionals,” Ostrom said.

Every summer, St. John United Methodist Church in Anchorage partners with local agencies for its annual back-to-school outreach. Backpacks, clothing and gift cards are donated to help students of all ages get a good start to the school year, according to staff at the church.

This year, 50 backpacks filled with clothing were given to Kids’ Corp – a non-profit operating Head Start and Early Head Start – as well as Big Brothers, Big Sisters in Anchorage. The church is also donating gift cards to the Child Welfare Academy, which assists University of Alaska-Anchorage students who are aging out of the foster care system and provides them with back-to-school clothing and supplies.

Backpacks ready for distribution in Beaverton, Oregon.

In Beaverton, Oregon, Rev. Jefferson Chao just finished two full weeks of back-to-school fairs with community partners through his non-profit WakeUp Beaverton. Chao is a planter and innovator of color serving on the GNW Area’s Innovation Vitality (IV) Team. He helped distribute more than 5,000 backpacks filled with supplies.

But not only were there backpacks to distribute at the four different pick-up locations. Partners from the Oregon Food Bank were there supplying culturally appropriate food boxes for families and the Oregon Health Authority was offering COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, community partners in housing and recreation were on hand to offer assistance and vouchers to the lower-income families being served (many immigrant and migrant families included).

“I know the community well and I know we can be a community together,” Chao said.

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Kristen Caldwell
A mom, a writer, a wannabe runner, Kristen Caldwell calls Vancouver, Wash., home and loves getting to tell stories of the people and places that make up the Greater Northwest Area.

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