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Back to School Bash: Blessing More than Backpacks

The sun shined its golden face over St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in City Heights on August 12 as the church grounds buzzed with anticipation for this year’s Back to School Bash, where backpacks blessed by congregations are given away to students. Families, many struggling under the weight of economic challenges, arrived and were greeted by joyful Episcopalians from throughout EDSD.

School supplies, already a significant expense for families, have witnessed an alarming surge in prices. A study by World Remit shows that the price of back-to-school supplies has risen a whopping 28% in the U.S. this year. 

Celebrating its 11th year, the program (started by the EDSD Service and Justice Coalition) has steadily expanded its reach and impact since the pandemic. At its height, pre-pandemic, the Back to School Bash handed out 435 backpacks to the community. This year, 12 congregations in the diocese participated. The collective effort witnessed a commendable feat: filling 256 backpacks, which is 100 more than the previous year. These weren’t just ordinary backpacks. Volunteers, whose ages spanned from a tender 2 years to a commendable 81, painstakingly filled each backpack with age-appropriate books and educational supplies.

While stuffing packs, Howard Smith, Senior Warden at St. Mark’s, signed in volunteers. “It would be great to do 350 or 400 backpacks, but we can’t do that on our own. That’s why all these churches come together—to do more for people than we can do alone,” he said, eyes gleaming. 

A little over a week later, on August 12, children lined up for face painting and other fun activities. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church transformed into a hub of activity, ensuring there was something for every family member to enjoy. Beyond the distribution of backpacks and supplies, families were treated to a day of fun and community bonding. Events ranged from a book faire, crafts, face painting, and storytime to raffles, prayer flags, and even a photo booth. Of course, snacks were on hand to replenish the energy of attendees. Such a wholesome approach ensured that families left not just with supplies but also with cherished memories.

Amidst the laughter and activities, a deeper purpose connected everyone. Thérèse Carmona, a parishioner with a warm smile, said, “Schools often provide supplies while students are on campus, but when students go to afterschool tutoring programs or home to do their homework, they need their own supplies.”

The “Back to School” period is typically the second-largest spending event for many families, coming only after the holiday season. In light of the soaring costs, the burden on financially struggling households has become increasingly heavy. The initiative by St. Mark’s and other churches within the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego is more than a charitable act; it’s a lifeline.

The Rev. Dr. Richard Lee, priest-in-charge at St. Mark’s, said, “The Back to School Bash is so important to St. Mark’s congregation.  It is a very real way of putting our faith into action, serving families who live in our community and beyond, reminding us that God’s love radiates out into the world.” St. Mark’s didn’t just offer school supplies that day; they offered hope, community, and a shared understanding of the challenges many faced. The church’s grounds transformed into a sanctuary where families could momentarily forget their worries, snapping photos in the booth, participating in raffles, and sharing snacks.

The day’s success was a testament to the courageous love the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego shares with the world–a beacon of hope in challenging times. Thank you to St. Mary’s in-the-Valley, St. Mark’s City Heights, St. Albans in El Cajon, Christ Church in Coronado, St. Dunstan’s in San Carlos, St. James in La Jolla, St. Bartholomew’s in Poway, St. Luke’s in North Park, St. Peter’s in Del Mar, All Soul’s in Point Loma, St. Phillips in Lemon Grove, St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, and everyone who gives of their time, talent, and treasure. You echo the Episcopal ethos of serving and uplifting our neighbors.

While the rising costs of study materials present a daunting challenge, the concerted efforts of congregations throughout the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego remind us that unity, empathy, and actionable support can make all the difference. The Back to School Bash is an example for other communities across the church to come together and ensure every child begins their academic journey with the tools they need to succeed.

To learn more about participating in next year’s Blessing of the Backpacks and the Back to School Bash, please contact Amy Maxim Ennenga (amym@stmarks-cityheights.org), St. Mark’s Outreach Coordinator and organizer of the event.

 

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Category: #Advocacy, #Evangelism, #Outreach, #Service, #Youth, Children, & Families

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One reply to “Back to School Bash: Blessing More than Backpacks

  1. Hannah Wilder | on August 16, 2023

    St. Mary’s had its own back to school bash inspired by St. Mark’s. On August 6, as a congregation we packed 49 backpacks for K-12 graders whose families cannot afford school supplies. It was an honor to support kids in our community in this way.

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