For kids dismayed by the end of summer (and the impending school year), one church is hoping to make the transition back a little easier. Bakersfield First Assembly of God is holding its Back to School Party next Saturday, giving many kids -- and their parents -- reason to rejoice.
Offering "a day to reach out and love them and offer hope," the event, now in its second year, aims to prepare children for the school year by offering immunizations, haircuts and school supplies as well as a fun day for the whole family.
Elias Abdallah, pastor of Family Life at the church, says the event came about from a need to help families facing financial struggles. "The economy was starting to get really bad and people were hurting, and we said you know what, we want to offer hope to the people and help them as much as we can," Abdallah said.
In their first year, the church gave out 500 backpacks stuffed with school supplies -- such as packs of paper, binders, crayons, pencils and pens -- to registered kids. This year, with many families still on a tight budget, the church is stepping up its efforts.
"We're thinking times are getting harder, and instead of pulling us back, we're going to go bigger because it's not getting any easier on people," Abdallah said.
To that effect, they're expecting to hand out 1,350 backpacks. With 1,050 already registered for the event as of Tuesday, the remaining backpacks will be given on a first come, first served basis.
First Assembly isn't stopping with supplies. Free kids' haircuts, courtesy of hairdressers from Lyle's College of Beauty and barbers from Bakersfield Barber College, will be available in the First Assembly gym. To keep waiting kids from getting too antsy, there will be face painting and a large screen broadcasting footage of events going on outside.
Those outside activities will include some of the best elements of a carnival, from inflatable bounce houses and obstacle courses to a giant 18-foot slide. There will also be plenty to snack on, including popcorn, snow cones, cotton candy and even free barbecue to be prepared by First Assembly's Barbecue Ministry. The ministry uses its huge towable barbecue to hand out food in parks as well as charity and other events like the Back to School Party.
Entertainment will continue on an outdoor stage, with live music from rap group Twelfth Tribe and others. Shorter performances, such a puppet show and skits by church youth, will be interspersed between the acts. The stage will also play host to the various items being raffled off, such as bikes, skateboards, an iPod and a flat-screen TV.
San Joaquin Community Hospital will be on hand to provide the immunizations necessary for kids to attend school. Parents simply need to provide their children's immunization records.
Abdallah said he was encouraging by the willingness of both his congregation and the community to make this event a reality.
"Last year when I shared (my idea) and said this is what I want to do, people gave a little over $10,000 and over 100 volunteers. I saw that the people were really behind it, so this year we did the same thing," Abdallah said.
Funding for the event was donated by the First Assembly congregation, and much of the 100-plus event staff is comprised of congregation members. Other volunteers will include teachers from four schools who were so touched by their schoolchildren receiving supplies from last year's event that they've decided to help.