NOTE: Bucyrus United Methodist Church (Mid-Ohio District) recently held its 8th-Annual Back-to-School Supply Carnival and Information Fair. The carnival, sponsored by the church’s Outreach team and staffed by its volunteers and others from the community, benefitted 450 kindergarten and elementary school students in the Bucyrus, Wynford and Columbus Crawford school districts.
I’m often asked by people: Why do we go to all the trouble and expense of staging a carnival to hand out school supplies to area school children? Why not just donate the money or the supplies to the schools?
In the weeks leading up to the Annual Back-to-School Supply Carnival and Information Fair these past five years, I – serving as chair of the event – found myself asking the same questions.
But after the carnival – when all the tired, but happy, volunteers limp home, all the expenses are tallied, the leftover supplies, games and paraphernalia are packed away, and the surveys are reviewed – I know why we do it.
First, the Back-to-School Supply Carnival is for the children.
It isn’t the fault of the kids that their families don’t have the money for back-to-school expenses. Yet it is the children who may be stigmatized because they don’t have the nicest clothes or because they have to carry school supplies to class in grocery bags.
Because of our annual carnival, children get a new outfit for school and a new backpack to carry their school supplies. Plus they are treated to a fun afternoon of games and prizes, face painting, and free refreshments.
Second, the Back-to-School Supply Carnival is for the parents.
Surveys indicate that the majority of parents visit the more than 25 tables of vendors at our Info Fair. At those tables they learn about the local library, the American Red Cross, the hospital, the YMCA, and Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts. They receive information about counseling services, mentoring programs, the county health department, WIC, and Children’s Services, and they become acquainted with our church’s Christian Education program, and preschool, afterschool and mentoring opportunities in their local school district.
The same displays are often passed by at the county fair because the children would rather see the animals or ride the rides than stop and get information with their parents. But at our carnival, the parents have the time to visit the displays while their children are preoccupied with the dunk tank, games and prizes, clowns and face painting.
Third, the Back-to-School Supply Carnival benefits the church.
The Bucyrus UMC motto is “God’s Love in Action.” The carnival is an opportunity to live out that motto in our community. Because of media coverage and word of mouth, businesses and other churches donate money, clothing, paper goods, and school supplies.
People are learning who we are and what we’re doing – and they are coming back for more:
- Kids return to Bucyrus UMC the week after the carnival to participate in our Vacation Bible School.
- They also participate in our King’s Kids after-school Christian education program on Wednesday afternoons.
- Parents return to the Clothing Closet, food pantry, and God’s Open Table.
- They’ve also requested information about Bucyrus UMC and have asked that one of our pastors visit them.
Fourth, the Back-to-School Supply Carnival breaks down stereotypes.
When we faced a serious shortage of volunteers to help set-up and then work at the carnival, a call went out to the local 12-Step recovery groups. Our congregation then learned a quick lesson about the dangers of judging “those people.” Members from the groups responded immediately, were cheerful, worked hard, and did whatever was needed. We found out that “those people” weren’t so different from us after all.
Fifth, the Back-to-School Supply Carnival creates friendships.
Three congregations came together to form Bucyrus UMC. Working side-by-side to plan and conduct the carnival, volunteers become more than acquaintances: we become friends. We learn each other’s names, backgrounds, interests and talents. The camaraderie we develop has helped our congregation grow closer to each other and closer to God.
Finally, the Back-to-School Supply Carnival gives us the opportunity to do something.
I received this letter from the principal of the elementary school:
“For many years, when some of our students started school without the supplies necessary to begin their year with a sense of anticipation and excitement, people would say, ‘Someone should do something.’
“When the weather turned colder and some of our students didn’t have the clothing needed to keep them warm, people would say, ‘Someone should do something.’
“When some of our students struggled with their studies because no one was available to work with them, people would say, ‘Someone should do something.’
“I am grateful many of our students now have the school supplies, warm clothing, and helpful hands they need thanks in part to our ‘someone’s,’ our Bucyrus United Methodist Church neighbors and friends. Thank you.”
And that’s why I’d say we go to all the trouble and expense of staging a carnival to hand out school supplies to area children, instead of just donating the supplies to the schools.
*Randy Garrett just completed her final year as chairperson of the Back-to-School Supply Carnival and Information Fair at Bucyrus UMC.