By C. N. Staff Writer
Every year, thousands of school children start a new school year without the proper tools for success. One church in Southeast Washington has made it their priority to help fight this continuing problem. Brighter Day Ministries, a church with two locations in the Congress Heights neighborhood, hosts an annual book bag giveaway, where they serve over 1,000 community school children with book bags before the first day of school.
The third year for the giveaway, the church has sponsored more than 3,500 book bags filled with school supplies to the greater southeast community. The giveaway includes activities for the entire family, such as musical entertainment, health screenings, free food, free haircuts and hair braids for school-aged boys and girls. The event is centered on serving the needs of the entire family.
This year the event grew in the number of families the event was able to serve and in sponsorship. Various community organizations donated heavily to ensuring the event was a success. Pastor of Brighter Day Ministries, Rev. Ernest Lyles, said, “It just keeps growing. Look at what God is doing!”
Hundreds of families braved the heat and sun to wait in line for hours for free book bags and school supplies before the new school year begins. Before the event begins there is a long line of residents waiting to be served and to secure a solid spot in order to get one of the free bookbags. Event coordinator Shelly Pinkard said, “the blessing of this event is that the bags are given away on a first come-first serve basis. So we are able to serve those truly in need.” The line for the 10:00am- 3:00pm event began to form around 8:30am with several families in line.
As excitement filled the air, many mothers and fathers anticipated the bookbags because they knew their children would be prepared on the first day of school, August 26th. LaRonda Bell, a Ward 8 resident, came out to get a bookbag for her daughter. “I look forward to coming out each year and getting a bag. This is extremely helpful to me as a single parent,” she said.
In order for people to receive a free bookbag they were required to bring proof of DC residency and show that the bag was going to a school-aged child. Pinkard said, “We have to require some form of residency proof so we can focus on serving the community of DC and not non-District residents.”
The event has also attracted guest speakers along with community and political support. Ward 4 councilmember Muriel Bowser stopped by the event to give remarks about the wonderful things the church is doing in the community. She took the opportunity to speak about her new bill that allows all DC kids to ride the bus for free. Bowser’s “Free Transportation for Students Amendment Act” was approved by the city council just weeks before school officially began. The bill will provide all students with free access to Metrobus and DC Circulator, and maintain subsidized access to Metrorail, starting this year.
At-Risk children of all races and ethnic backgrounds face numerous challenges that are often ignored and misunderstood. Brighter Day Ministries helps defy these odds through this even every year. Each of the bags were filled with donated supplies that included: pencils, flash drives, Kleenex, markers, calculators and notebook paper among other things. The giveaway will help thousands of at-risk children of all races and backgrounds start the school year with tools they need to succeed in the classroom and out. In the United States roughly 7,000 students drop out of public schools everyday. In communities like Ward 7 and 8 in the District, where students face a disproportionate number of challenges such as gang violence, drug usage and high crime, the dropout rate can be high as 50 percent.
Pastor Lyles said, “We are continuing to grow and we expect more even next year!”