SPRING HILL — While several organizations, both secular and faith-based, give out backpacks filled with school supplies to kids headed back to school each year, the leaders of two outreach ministries discovered a couple of years ago that not much was being done in the Spring Hill area.
After helping a Brooksville ministry with its project in 2009, John Stramiello, founder of Behind the Stone Ministries, and Chad Pardue, a leader of the Gathering church-planting ministry, decided they should start a project of their own.
"There were three of them that year on the same day in Brooksville, and they each gave away 500 backpacks," Stramiello said. "So Chad and I thought, since we hadn't heard of anything, that maybe we should do it in the 34606 (ZIP code) area."
So last year, the men added their support to a project set up by Josh Kelly, executive director for the Boys and Girls Club of Hernando County.
They gave out 330 backpacks, but had to turn almost 200 people away.
This year, the men, along with fellow organizer Jeff Pasmore of Shine the Light Ministries, hope to help a lot more kids receive most of their school supplies for free. They've collected almost 500 backpacks for elementary, middle and high school students — and they are hoping for more.
They have also planned a Back to School Bash, to coincide with Operation Back Pack, where families can enjoy a fun-filled day with free food and water, free haircuts for children, a bounce house and other children's activities.
The event will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 6.
"The main focus is making relationships with our community," Pardue said about the event. "We believe it's through relationships that we have the chance to minister to people and care for them so that they'll start to trust us as needs come up. Ultimately, we want to share Christ with them and have them understand that our desire to love them is so that they can understand the love of God as well."
Stramiello also wants people to know that they, as ministers, are there for them.
"Are there any services we can do for them? Can we pray with them? Are they looking for a church or some comforting or somebody to talk to? These are what we want to offer them along with backpacks, hot dogs and an enjoyable day," he said.
Even though the event is faith-based, Kelly is working with the ministries again this year.
"We believe in God and the right to worship according to our own faith and religion, so we don't separate ourselves (from faith-based organizations)," Kelly said about the Boys and Girls Club. "I think family involvement is dealing with everyone in the community, and we're open to work with everybody. … It's great to be partnered up with those kinds of organizations, so if the families want that kind of help, we can help them out."
Kelly also likes the idea of having a family event to go with the backpack giveaway.
"We service most of the hard-hit families in Hernando County," Kelly said, referring to the economy. "The other need that we see is for family involvement. So we'll be bringing out a bounce house and doing some activities with the kids and families."
The Boys and Girls Club will serve as a drop-off point for donated backpacks and supplies, as will Holy Cross Lutheran Church.
"They can also donate at Staples (4210 Commercial Way)," Kelly said. "They have a bin inside the front of their store that collects for Boys and Girls Club."
Stramiello said there are numerous "key players" who have offered help with securing backpacks, supplies, food, water and activities for the bash. They include Courtney Judd, Head Start; the Rev. Tim Orrell, Holy Cross Lutheran Church; the Rev. Patty Zorn, Sacred Walk Home Ministry; Noreen St. Jean, Devereux Kids; Will Gallacher, Panera Bread; Debbie Valante and Shanika Figueroa, Kid's Closet, and Wendy Stramiello, Barbara Hutchings and Nancy Disciascio, Behind the Stone Ministries.
Volunteers are needed to help pack the backpacks with the pencils, erasers, pens, paper, protractors, notebooks and other supplies that are being collected. Backpack "stuffing" will take place at 6 p.m. Friday at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.
Sponsors for the event include several Spring Hill businesses, including Dollar Tree, Walmart, Belk, Rick Matthews Buick/GMC, Kohl's, GIME Fitness, Cato, Paul and Jerry's Storage and Accuform Signs of Brooksville. Organizations that serve as sponsors include Suncoast for Kids Foundation, Springs of Life Church, 34606 Neighborhood Project and Devereux Kids.
Stramiello said service organizations will be welcome at the event.
"Any faith-based or government organization that can reach out and help the community and wants the community to know they're there can call me and we'll set them up a table to hand out their pamphlets and talk to people," he said.
He also hopes to attract doctors to do physicals and eye exams.
"We want it to be an enjoyable bash, something for the kids to look forward to, to get the school year started," he said. "This is not a handout. This is a helping hand."
Stramiello hopes people coming to the event will know why the ministries are there.
"We want to let them know that faith-based organizations are coming together in this community as one body to reach out and to help them," he said. "That's what we're supposed to do. That's what Jesus tells us to do — go out and help."