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Back to School Bash

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The Pittsburgh, Pa., Temple’s 5th annual “Back to School Bash” went on this year despite COVID-19 putting a damper on the fun. In past years, there was a bouncy house and food and a party atmosphere, but that was all cancelled for 2020.

“Just to keep everyone safe, we had a drive-thru event,” explained Captain Justin Caldwell, the corps officer. “People drove through and they would get a backpack and school supplies and we also gave out some clothing items that were already prepacked. It was a great event.”

Meanwhile, volunteers from the North Hills Beauty Academy cut the hair of about 30 students, Caldwell said.

“We kept them in separate rooms so that everyone was safe,” he said.

Caldwell said about 180 kids received backpacks, supplies, haircuts, clothing, shoes, and snacks at the bash, which was held Aug. 15 and sponsored by First National Bank.

Like many other parts of the country, some schools in the Pittsburgh area are returning to regular classroom learning, while other students will go back virtually.

Caldwell said the families, especially those hit by COVID-19, appreciated The Salvation Army being there for them.

“It’s kind of hard to know what it’s like for some of these families right now, especially for those who were laid off,” Caldwell said. “We’re hoping the end is coming somewhere in the near future, but a lot of families are just trying to get by right now. These little expenses add up when you’re trying to pay your bills and keep food on the table. It’s just another little way to help.

“We talk a lot about hope in The Salvation Army. In times like these, when a family struggles to keep their heads above water, a backpack and school supplies are just the little bit extra that gets a family further along.”

Caldwell and his wife, Captain Evelyn Caldwell, just arrived a few weeks ago after being in the youth department at the Massachusetts Division’s DHQ .

Moving to a new corps in the midst of COVID-19 has been challenging, Caldwell said.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” he said. “What does fall programming look like this year? What do kettles look like this year? All the ways that we would normally go about transitioning, and what we’re used to in regard to programs and services, is different. There’s a lot of brainstorming and coming together with the advisory board and advisory council.

“There’s a lot of just praying it out and seeking God’s direction. It’s an opportunity for ministry and reaching people in new ways during a time of need. While the challenges are many, the opportunities are also there to meet those needs in the name of Jesus, for sure.”

For example, a men’s Bible study will begin soon, but it will be done virtually. Meanwhile, a women’s study meets in person, but outside in a gazebo and the women wear face masks.

“We’re just trying to walk that line between safety and reaching out and not losing people of the community of faith,” Caldwell said. “We know there are people going through tough times right now and kids who might be home in really difficult situations. We’re trying to walk that line between keeping people safe and continuing our mission. It’s a tough balance.”

by Robert Mitchell

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