Filling backpacks, lightening load in Washington


Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

WASHINGTON — The town of Washington may not have a high unemployment rate, but that doesn’t stop families from needing a little assistance at the end of each summer when the children go back to school, said St. James parishioner Pat Dessner.

Father Bernie Weir
St. James parishioner Pat Dessner posts a sign advertising the community school supply drive, which is hosted by the church annually.

“I can’t believe what these kids need for school,” the parish social action committee member said. She observed that the yearly purchase of school supplies can sometimes be a burden for large families, immigrant families and others in the area that may be undergoing financial stress.

Each year, St. James works with other churches and organizations in the town of 6,500 to donate book bags full of school supplies to students in all grade levels. This year more than 190 students received assistance. “Even just giving school supplies to one or two children (in a family) really helps out,” Dessner said.


St. James Church and School hosted the ecumenical giveaway event in the school gym Aug. 6. Prior to that, St. James and the local Protestant churches in the area took collections, raising $3,000 for needed supplies. The St. James Social Action Committee referenced the local school supply lists from grades K-8 to determine needs. The committee submitted the order to the local Walmart, whose employees offered to prepare the large order of backpacks and school supplies prior to pickup.

Hawkeye Area Community Action Program picked up the order from Walmart and delivered it to the church.

IC Compassion and St. James filled backpacks for each grade, assembly-line style. Dessner said it took about two days to prepare all of the backpacks. Volunteers posted lawn signs about the book bag project, and the local newspaper ran an advertisement for the school supply drive.

Father Bernie Weir, who was installed as pastor in July, expressed pride in his new parish’s efforts to organize the event. “This church has a good social conscience,” Fr. Weir observed. “I’m impressed by how many people came to help.”

He was just as impressed that no one was turned away from receiving help. At the start of the drive, more than 200 backpacks had been collected in the gym. At the end, 11 remained. “We weren’t checking incomes. Whoever felt there was a need was invited. That is where charity and justice begin; if you are in need you are helped,” said Fr. Weir.
Dessner said there is great joy in helping others through the supply drive each year. “You feel so good about it, and it’s really fun!”


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