Magazine Features

Storybook Picnic days

The Salvation Army’s Center Hill Corps in Cincinnati is surrounded by two senior housing complexes and already has a vibrant ministry to the community’s aging population.

However, since 2014, corps workers have reached out to children in this impoverished area by bringing hot food and books directly to their neighborhoods through a program called Storybook Picnic.

“This allows us to connect with some kids in the area and to go outside our campus,” says Envoy Brad Harris, one of the Salvation Army officers in Center Hill. “The senior ministry, we’re thankful for it, but it’s easy for us. They’re right here. This gives us an opportunity to branch out a little bit.”

Harris said a team from Center Hill goes out on Tuesday and Thursday during the summer to the low-income Winton Terrace housing development. Two seasonal employees cook the food and load the canteen beforehand, while someone else drives a minivan with story books to the large complex.


Summer reading

“It’s usually fun food for the kids—corndogs and pizza rolls and hamburgers and things like that,” Harris said. “They also get snacks and drinks. Then we put the books out on a table, and they get to choose a book to take with them each time they come. We’re hoping it will compel them to read during the summer and keep their education going and get them prepared for the next year.”

The team also includes the other officers at Center Hill; Harris’s wife, Envoy Gina Harris, and Major Shari Payne. They go to a low-income trailer park on Wednesday, but the number of children there pales in comparison to the many who live at the housing development.

“We’re hoping to expand and maybe add a few more stops next year,” Harris said.

Storybook Picnic, which ran for six weeks this year between June 15 and July 29, has provided 21,780 new books and meals to neighborhoods in the Center Hill Corps area since its inception seven years ago.

Jerry Smith, a corporate and donor relations specialist with The Salvation Army, said 1,000 Disney books were provided by WCPO-TV in Cincinnati through the Magic of Storytelling Campaign, a collaboration between Disney/ABC Television Group and First Book to provide new books to children in need.

The Storybook Picnic team on this day included (top row, left to right) Ruth Setty and Allison Harris (bottom row) Major Shari Payne, Vicky Hall, and Envoy Gina Harris.

Sharing the gospel

The Salvation Army’s Southwest Ohio and Northeast Kentucky (SWONEKY) Division wrote that Storybook Picnic “softens the disruption of children’s learning and potential hunger in the summer months when school is not in session. For many children who live in poverty, summer means the end of free breakfasts and lunches as well as the end of provided reading material.”

“We try to fill in the gap in the summer,” Harris said. “We look at it as a bridge to not only share the mission of The Salvation Army with them, but also provide opportunities where we can speak faith to them and to their parents. We’re hoping it builds a bridge where we can get them into church and our Sunday school and youth programs. Our hope is always to integrate them into our corps programming and spiritual life.”

by Robert Mitchell