Saturday is the first of two days a projected 4,000 students — mostly local — will have to register for Back2School, a program that prepares children for the upcoming school year with school supplies, backpacks, shoes and socks and prayer and supportive conversation.

“You have churches of all denominations,” said Pastor Michael Harrison of The Community Fellowship, the lead/coordinating church for the program. “People come together for one cause: share the love of Christ and meet needs” people face.

Registration will be done at 15 sites: six city and county locations, as well as one in Ferrum, two in Danville and a few in other states.

Prillaman Baptist Church serves as Ferrum’s registration location, located at 3480 Prillaman Switch Road.

Last year the program served a reported 2,900 students. This year, the goal is 4,000, Harrison said.

The Community Fellowship started the program in 2007, Harrison said. It has grown to 15 locations, mostly churches, staffed by 1,000 volunteers who come from 50 churches.

Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Axton is one of its newest participants. The church just got on board in the spring, when Deana Ferguson went to an interest meeting.

“I just heard members of other churches talk about how a lot of them felt like it was the single best outreach they did all year long,” she said. “It stood out to me: so many churches coming together for a common purpose, serve the kids of the county and share Jesus with them while making sure they have the things they need” for school.

“It’s not need based. We want to be able to share with everyone. Homeschooled kids are also welcome.”

Dawn Poe of The River Church in Danville said this is her eighth year involved with the program —she worked with it through Mercy Crossing in Martinsville and she “was teaching school there, so I knew firsthand the need that kids had for shoes and school supplies,” she said.

She brought the program last year to The River, where her husband, Jackie Poe, is the pastor. The River served 293 students that first time, she said, “and this year we’re hoping for even a few more than that.”

It costs the program $20 per student, “but the value students will walk out with is between $60 and $80,” Harrison said.

The school supplies and shoes are the basics, but some churches add to it with free haircuts or clothing, he said.

The registration times are 9 a.m. to noon Saturday and 6 to 8 p.m. July 23. Students will pick up their supplies on Aug. 3. Special needs students can receive their supplies in a quieter setting on Aug. 2.

The registration ahead of time is required to get measurements of the children’s feet for correctly fitting shoes and to get information about their schools and grades to get the correct school supplies ready.

On the day the students pick up their supplies, volunteers will talk with them as they wash their feet.

The idea is to wash each child’s feet just like Jesus did the night of the Last Supper. While washing the children’s feet, volunteers talk about positive topics that instill hope within the kids.

The foot-washing was inspired by Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme, founder, president and CEO of Samaritan’s Feet, Harrison said, adding that Ohonme became a successful businessman who was reminded that someone once gave him shoes and suggested he do the same for others.

To help with costs, Back2School is offering sponsorships at $1,000 level (50 children), $500 level (25 children) and $250 (12 children). Sponsorship entitles donors to various levels of advertisements. The sponsorship deadline is Monday.

All donations are tax deductible. Checks should be made payable to Back2School and mailed to Back2School; P.O. Box 388, Collinsville, VA 24078.

Churches have different ways of contributing financially.

Mount Vernon conducted a few fundraisers, such as an outreach by the Baptist men and a penny offering at Vacation Bible School, and it received a few private donations, Ferguson said.

Mount Vernon member Bettie Bowles, who paints portraits of dogs (many of which recently were on exhibit at Piedmont Arts), has a special going throughout July — the entire commission she receives this month on every painting will be donated to Back2School. The client doesn’t even have to know about Back2School or request the payment be used that way, she said. For information, visit “Bettie Bowles — My Art World” on Facebook or email bettiebowles@va.net.

The artist was inspired to do that because “last week’s Sunday school lesson was on giving back, and I just felt like I was led to do that,” she said.

Janet Hilliard of Moffett Memorial Baptist Church said Moffett didn’t do any additional fundraising for Back2School. “The major financial obligations is something that our church does” out of its budget for missions, she said. Additionally, some members have earmarked special donations for the program, and the church did a collection of socks.

The community-wide “Pack the Bus” donation drive will take place July 19-21 at various locations, including the Martinsville Walmart. A school bus will be parked outside, and people put their donations inside it.

Usually two entire school buses in Martinsville alone get packed, Harrison said, although it has reached two and a half buses.

On July 30 people will fill backpacks with school supplies in The Community Fellowship’s new building, the former American Standard Building System building, Harrison said. Four hundred volunteers did that last year.

Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

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