- Associated Press - Friday, August 15, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Kyra Farmer knew exactly why she came to Element Church on a recent Saturday.

Farmer, 9, said she and her family were there “to help people who don’t have money and need backpacks.”

The youngster was one of about 75 enthusiastic volunteers who filled 2,000 colorful backpacks with school supplies.

The backpacks are for students in grades K-12 in Laramie County School District 1.

Farmer came to help load the backpacks with supplies. She came with her parents, Terry and Andrea Farmer, and her six siblings.

Terry Farmer said the couple brought their children to the volunteer event so they could know more about the importance of giving.

Volunteers delivered 150 backpacks and supplies to students in Laramie County School District 2, located in the eastern part of the county.

This year, Element Church partnered with Operation Back to School for the backpack project to help children.

Operation Back to School has collected and distributed school supplies for local children in need for several years.

Those involved with Operation Back to School include Needs Inc., Laramie County School District 1, and several partner organizations.

The job of filling the backpacks started on a Saturday morning inside the church garage. Volunteers - many of them church members - formed an efficient assembly line to fill each backpack.

The supplies changed a bit according to different grades. Volunteers placed items like pencils, glue, crayons, markers, tissues, scissors, binders, erasers, notebooks, pencil boxes and USB storage drives for computers inside the backpacks.

The backpacks contain about 7,000 pencils, said Barbara Fecht, executive director of Needs Inc., a nonprofit food pantry.

Steve Doolin, associate pastor for community and outreach at Element Church, said church members started planning the project in February.

“This is our fifth year doing this,” he said. “We just want to get bigger and better every year and impact our community more.”

In addition to school supplies, Joshua’s Storehouse in Casper donated 1,650 pairs of new shoes for students, Doolin said.

“We want to bring the community together,” Doolin said. “One of our core values as a church is that we believe in a radically generous God, so we want to be a radically generous church.”

Several businesses donated services, Doolin said. Chic-fil-A donated free meals, while Great Clips gave free haircuts, and Brakes Plus will provide free oil changes.

This year’s effort will include giving away 22 new bicycles with a donation from CollegeAmerica in Cheyenne and church members.

CollegeAmerica also donated two $1,000 scholarships, Doolin said.

The filled backpacks will be given to students at the Back 2 School Bash before school start.

Any student who comes to the bash can get a backpack, Doolin said.

“We’re looking to help families in need,” he said, but he understands that the economy is difficult. There are no strings attached other than the child must be present at the bash.

Fecht said she hopes the children who receive backpacks will be those in need.

Watching kids open their new backpacks is a big reward, Doolin said.

“It’s the greatest thing in the world. They open the backpacks like it was Christmas,” he said.

“I see a reward with the smiles on their faces, the goose bumps I get that my soul’s being fed and I believe I’m doing a work for Christ. And everybody else is here as well.”

Filling the new backpacks was a family event for Leona Hagedorn and her two adult daughters, Carlene Anselmi and Fran Shaffer. They are members of Element Church. The spry Hagedorn is in her 80s, but she said she wanted to help.

“We want to give back to the community,” Shaffer said.

Micah Turner, 14, of Cheyenne said his mom volunteered the family to help out. But Turner said he wanted to be there anyway because the work is important. “I believe I put a smile on God today.”

A new, well-stocked backpack means a lot for a child in need on the first day of school, according to Fecht.

“If they all start out on an even keel on the first day of school, it can make a difference,” she said.

___

Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com

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