Covid-19Magazine Exclusive

Everyone needs a hero

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many heroes, but superheroes of a traditional kind descended on Washington, Pa., recently to help the corps conduct a drive-thru fundraiser for back-to-school supplies.

Robin of “Batman & Robin” fame was there, along with Flash, Spiderman, Batgirl, Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and many other superheroes. Dave McComb, an advisory board member for the corps, played Thor. Joining them were a slew of princesses, including Moana, Rapunzel, and Anna and Elsa from “Frozen.”

“We had 21 superheroes and princesses along a 2.5-mile trail,” said Captain Amber Imhoff, the corps officer. “It was our first year doing it and we were quite blessed by it.”

The fundraiser, held at Camp Agape in nearby Hickory, Pa., also included the Salvation Army’s “Mr. Shield” (played by Taevion Herring) as well as local fire, police, and ambulance company personnel.

Imhoff said the corps has held a golf tournament fundraiser for 20 years, but the event was cancelled when COVID-19 guidelines limited the clubhouse capacity to just 25 people.

“We were trying to figure out how we could raise some money but also give the families in our community some hope because everyone has been stuck inside,” Imhoff said. “I thought to myself, Well, everyone needs a hero sometimes.”

Imhoff tried to think of something that could be held outdoors. She had previously dealt with Royal Princess Engagements, a local company offering fully costumed characters and princesses. During the next few months, her idea came to life.

“With the pandemic, people aren’t really gathering together,” Imhoff explained. “This was a great, safe event because families literally stayed in their cars and just rolled down their windows and waved to the characters and took pictures.

“A lot of the kids who came through with their parents were dressed up in costumes and were ready to meet their favorite friends. We probably had more superheroes and princesses than any other event has ever had in our area.”

Dave McComb, an advisory board member for the corps, played Thor.

Imhoff said the costumed characters appreciated the gig because COVID-19 restrictions have shut down theaters, private parties, and most local events.

“This was kind of a win-win for everyone,” she said. “It gave them a little bit of work, but also provided us with a great event in the community and helped us to raise some money for our back-to-school effort, which is really big at this location.”

Last year, the corps provided 409 kids with backpacks and school supplies, 207 children with shoes, and eight different school districts with supplies.

Schools hope to reopen in late August in the Washington area, though most students will only attend two or three days a week and do the rest virtually.

“There are no shared school supplies this year, so every kid is going to have to have individual items,” Imhoff said. “It’s more important than ever this year for us to make sure we pull off this back–to–school effort in our community.”

Donations are still coming in, but Imhoff said the drive-thru fundraiser generated about $5,000 after expenses.

“We did great for a first-time event in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. “Going in, we said that, even if we only made $5, just the number of smiling, excited faces would really be a blessing. We literally had over 100 families come through in two hours, which is huge in this season of life for all of us.”

Washington, located about a half hour southwest of Pittsburgh, has been hit hard by COVID-19. Small businesses are struggling, and the local hospital had to lay off 200 people.

“Our event was an amazing sign of hope for the community,” Imhoff said. “We got feedback from families that were so blessed by the experience.

“The campground has already invited us back to do it next year so we’re very excited.”

Imhoff said the economics of the area’s school districts vary. The cost of living in Washington is high and the average apartment goes for $1,000 a month. At the height of COVID-19, the corps served 2,000 people a week.

“I find people who have been laid off or their businesses have been closed for the last four months, but their bills haven’t disappeared,” Imhoff said. “That’s a huge sting.

“The last four months, we’ve served people who would normally be our donors. We’ve had business owners drive through our food distribution. Their businesses are closed, and they can’t afford to pay their employees. They’ve picked up food and driven it to their employees’ houses because they feel that bad about it.”

Imhoff said she and her husband, Captain Jason Imhoff, had never had to cancel a Sunday morning service until this year.

“It has been a moment of pastoring a community and not just a congregation,” she said. “People pull through our food lines and they’re like, ‘Pastor, will you just please pray for me? I don’t know if we’re going to make it.’”

The corps has built partnerships with local school districts, from the superintendents to the cafeteria staff.

“We’ve been blessed to serve, but it definitely has had its challenges,” Imhoff said. “We’ve had to make lots of changes and adapt and pivot all through it, but God has been so good to us.

“It’s something I think people will remember for generations.”

by Robert Mitchell

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