Mia Thomas hopes to make the 3-year-old Back to School Bash at Carver Park Baptist Church the one-stop shop for free back-to-school assistance in Waco.
At the end of the five-hour event at 2 p.m. Saturday, she said 730 schoolchildren from 223 households had visited the fair and received, free of charge, goods that included clothes, school supplies, uniforms, books, backpacks and other items that elementary and secondary students need.
Last year, the total was 924 children from 550 households. Thomas attributed the drop to other activities this weekend, including similar back-to-school outfitting events in various locations.
“If we can get all the parents, donors, volunteers and exhibitors together in one event at one location, we’ll have a lot more to offer,” she said.
The church can offer more, too, when it gets a projected Carver Park Center of Hope built on the grounds so that more functions can be under air conditioning.
The Back to School Bash is organized by Road to Damascus, Inc., a nonprofit ministry that Thomas founded in 2010 to provide material and counseling services to high-risk youth. Thomas called it “a one-stop resource center and clearinghouse.”
The Saturday event included drawings for cellphones and other items students would find useful; stationary horse rides; haircuts by six barbers in a room in the church; free food donated by local restaurants; and live music by Christian performers.
Thomas said about 200 volunteers came from the Junior League, Girl Scouts, Baylor University and other civic organizations and companies. About 30 exhibitors with booths represented public and private social service organizations.
Rashad “Chip” Davis of The Rock Barbershop in Hewitt said he has cut hair at the Bash since it started.
“I have an aunt who attends this church, and she asked me to do it the first year,” he said. “I keep coming back because I like giving back to the community. I also add to my clientele. I might give 50 haircuts by the end of the day.”
Thomas said after the event that the six barbers gave 350 haircuts.
Among exhibiting agencies was Communities in Schools. By about noon, outreach coordinator Rachel Salazar and assistants had a page and a half of potential clients who may receive individual tutoring and counseling during the school year.
“We’ve seen some kids who are already our clients,” she said. “It’s great to talk with them outside the settings where we normally work with them. It helps us make friends with them.”
Jena Kirk, one of four counselors with the nonprofit Starry Counseling of Waco and Clifton, said, “I think we’re the only local counseling center that offers services to children and families entirely free of charge.”
They offer classes and groups on topics including bullying, parenting, childhood depression and attention-deficit hyperactive disorder.
Several public and private health and insurance groups had booths, as did educational institutions including McLennan Community College.
Said Patty Mitchell, of Waco, who was attending for her first year with two children, “This is more than I expected. Besides all the free stuff we got, I’ve learned a lot about medical and social services that I never knew was out there.”
Thomas said she hopes more will learn of the Bash’s offerings in coming years.
“We’re pleased with all we’ve been able to do so far, and we look forward to being a lot stronger and serving a lot more people in the future,” she said.