Thousand of single mothers, fathers and in some cases whole families came out Saturday morning to the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House to get free back-to-school book bags, school supplies, hair cuts and hair styles for their children.
By 12:30 p.m., organizers had given out 1,320 book bags, said Vera Jones, development and marketing director at Lessie Bates Neighborhood House.
Bill Kreeb, executive director of the Lessie Bates Neighborhood House, said the event was made possible because a number of community organizations joined together. A huge sign outside the building had the names of Cargill, Harmony Health, Catholic Urban Programs and more.
“We are so thankful to everyone who helped us. They’ve been so supportive to us. We’re in the middle of the (state) budget crisis and because of others pulling together, we were still able to have the back-to-school event. These families need help,” Kreeb said.
Elizabeth Wilson said she has five children from infant to 11. She said she is grateful to the Neighborhood House for the helping hand. “It’s wonderful,” she said.
Mariesha Samuels, a single mother of four, said she was able to get book bags for all her children. She said it will save her some money on needed back-to-school items.
Akera Samuels, one of the children, said she is excited about going back to school where she will be in the seventh grade. “This will help me out and it’s one less thing that my mom has to worry about.”
As the parents stood in lines that stretched from the building into the nearby District 189 parking lot, children played and parents talked, but no one left, despite the intense heat.
Asked whether they felt Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House might not be able to host this event this year due to the crisis over the budget in Springfield, parent Candyce Whitfield said she knew the organization wouldn’t let families down.
“They always find a way,” she said. Whitfield has an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old. “This is my third year coming here. Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House is always here to help. My 5-year-old has been coming here since she was eight months old. She grew up with a lot of the staff. They always help anybody in any way they can,” Whitfield said.
While parents waited in line, School District 189 had people on site registering pre-schoolers. Officials with Harmony Healthcare also were on hand telling people about the services they offer, “especially the things available to seniors like blood pressure testing,” Jones said. There were other vendors distributing information to tell people where to go to get assistance on various things, including rental assistance, health screenings and more.
The book bags, which came in a variety of colors, were stuffed with notebooks, folders, rulers, colored pencils, markers and more.
Craig Black, founder of Craig Shields Foundation Community Cuts for Kids, said he has been giving back to the community through his foundation for 15 years, six of them working with Lessie Bates. In 2012, he moved back to Washington D.C., where he is from, but Black said he is motivated to keep doing the community hair cuts in the metro-east area because “it’s all about the children. When they have fresh hair cuts and hairstyles, they feel good about themselves and can go to school and focus on their studies,” he said.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.