At the "We Got Your Back Backpack Festival" Saturday at Wesley Church in Bethlehem, more than 1,500 filled backpacks were donated to kids who need them for the upcoming school year. (Jennifer Sheehan/THE MORNING CALL)

Bethlehem church sends kids back to school with new backpacks, supplies, haircuts

By JENNIFER SHEEHAN
THE MORNING CALL |AUG 17, 2019

The upcoming school year promises to be a big one for 11-year-old Eliany Faulcon.

With elementary school in the rear view mirror, Eliany will start sixth grade at East Hills Middle School in Bethlehem on Aug. 26.

Xamaya Faulcon, left, and her sister, Eliany, both of Bethlehem, show off the new backpacks they received at the annual “We Got Your Back Backpack Festival” Saturday at Wesley Church in Bethlehem. More than 1,500 backpacks filled with school supplies were donated to area children in need. (Jennifer Sheehan/THE MORNING CALL)

To help make sure she’s ready, Eliany’s mom, Dionely Hance, brought her and her 8-year-old sister, Xamaya, to get new backpacks and other necessities at the “We Got Your Back Backpack Festival” at Wesley Church in Bethlehem Saturday. The girls were among more than a thousand children who came to the church to receive free backpacks, school supplies, books, wellness exams, vision screenings and haircuts — all to be ready for the new school year.

The annual event began seven years ago to help low-income children in the Lehigh Valley, especially Bethlehem. More than half of the Bethlehem Area School District’s children fall at or below the poverty line, making preparing for school financially challenging for many.

“Every year I do this I’m amazed at the turnout,” said Sue Kiefner, a member of the church and coordinator of the event. “When we open at 7 a.m. there’s always a long line out the door.”

School supplies were a big part of the event, with more than 1,500 backpacks given away. Kids hopped aboard a parked school bus to choose a bag, filled with school essentials such as markers, ruler, notebooks, folders and pencils.

School supplies were a big part of the event, with more than 1,500 backpacks given away. Kids hopped aboard a parked school bus to choose a bag, filled with school essentials such as markers, ruler, notebooks, folders and pencils.

“They love coming,” she said.

The event had all the trappings of a summer festival, including face-painting, free hot dogs and slices of fresh watermelon. Members of the Bethlehem Police Department and EMS were on hand, explaining their vehicles and how they do their jobs to the kids.

As families walked around, they also could get the kids haircuts, courtesy of beauty school and barbershop school students. Just off the church lobby, children could get vision screenings from the Center for Vision Loss, as well as wellness information from the Bethlehem Health Bureau.

Families also could pick up free socks and underwear for children as well as books, courtesy of the Cops ‘n’ Kids Lehigh Valley reading program.

In the past five years, Wesley Church has distributed nearly 7,000 backpacks with school supplies, handed out hundreds of new socks and underwear and enabled 1,000 kids to receive free haircuts and other services.

For Kiefner, it was gratifying to see the turnout and know how many have been helped.

“We are a church and we feel God’s love,” Kiefner said. “We want to share that love with everyone.”

See the story at mcall.com