Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Churches unite to supply backpacks


Nine hundred students from low-income families will have a leg up come this school year, as local churches have teamed up with community organizers to provide school supplies.

Nearly 100 local youths and adult volunteers met at El Montecito Presbyterian Church this past Saturday to sort and stuff 900 age-appropriate backpacks for youths supported by Peoples’ Self-Help Housing (PSHH). The fundraiser was sponsored by the Community of Montecito Churches (M4), which includes All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal, El Montecito Presbyterian, Montecito Covenant and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic churches.
“For 900 of our kids, having a new backpack is so important,” said Rochelle Rose, Development Director for PSHH. “It’s really hard on their self-esteem if they don’t have a new backpack when school starts. You can get away with an old shirt, but with a backpack everything in it is essential.”
Founded in 1970, Peoples’ Self-Help Housing aims to fulfill many of the housing needs for low-income families across the Central Coast and its subsequent social implications.
“Our mission is to build affordable housing for low income families,” Rose said. “We also build homes and seek housing for the recently homeless, veterans and those with special needs. We develop low cost housing for people who don’t know where to go. It’s a very tough job.”
PSHH currently operates in both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, encompassing 35 different communities, such as Isla Vista, Carpinteria, Guadalupe, Goleta and many others.
“One of the biggest needs for poor families is that they cannot buy backpacks with school supplies for their children,” Rose said. “We put age-appropriate supplies in each bag and then we deliver them to our families.”
Pastor for Montecito Covenant Church Don Johnson said the M4 are indebted for the opportunity provided through PSHH to sponsor the initiative.
“The leadership and parishioners of the four churches are truly grateful for this opportunity through People’s Self-Help Housing to serve these local children of lower income families and to help guarantee that they have the tools necessary to thrive in their school environments,” Johnson said, in a prepared statement.
Johnson, who serves as spokesman for the Community of Montecito Churches, teamed up with other local clergy members for the fundraiser, including Pastor Harold Bussell, Reverend Rob Fisher, Reverend Jeff Bullock and Sister Kathleen Patrice.
“The churches have been great and it has been a great experience for them to get together,” Rose said. “Sometimes [the Churches] have different doctrines and have limited interaction and this is a good way to get them together.”
Rose said the M4 churches have raised money for the program throughout the past few months, and then relay the funds to PSHH to purchase them.
Despite the hours of volunteer work, Rose said the children’s reactions to the program are what make it worth while.
“It’s so special for them. I can’t tell you how their eyes light up,” Rose said.
For more information with regard to donating to the M4 Backpack Project or to volunteer, visit http://www.pshhc.org.

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