It’s amazing how similar a swarm of bees and a group of children can look.
More than 30 kids descended upon the Lee Elementary annex Wednesday to help sort clothes, shoes and school supplies for the USD 383 homeless student program.
The group of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders spent their “early release day” working on behalf of their youth groups at First United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church and University Christian Church.
Those churches and nine more recently held a clothing drive for the district’s program: Crestview Community Church, Westview Community Church, Faith Evangelical Free Church, Vineyard Community Church, College Avenue United Methodist Church, Manhattan Mennonite Church, Peace Lutheran Church, Living Word Church and Christ the Redeemer Church.
“We probably could have gotten more churches involved with more notice,” said Kenna McFall, who heads the children’s ministry at University Christian Church.
The 12 churches spent three Sundays collecting clothes during services for the program, which serves around 250 students, most of whom share housing with others or live in shelters.
The drive’s haul filled the bed of three pickup trucks.
“I was pleased,” McFall said. “It’ll be interesting to see how much is new and how much is used.”
Organized chaos seemed like the appropriate phrase to describe the scene as the kids moved around the room.
They needed to figure out if they belonged to the clothes, shoes or supplies sorters.
Misplaced items had to be taken to the proper place.
Even more clothes started to come in, so some boys ran out to get the bags.
Andi Tanner, 11, and Alissa Kohls, 10, worked in the slightly less hectic shoes section.
The classmates at Marlatt Elementary and church mates at First United Methodist talked about the importance of helping those less fortunate.
“Lots of people don’t have new clothes to wear for winter,” Tanner said. “I just like helping out people. It’s fun to work with others too.”
Kohls described helping as a passion of hers.
“For one thing, I love to help out people that need stuff like food, water and clothes,” she said. “It makes me really sad when they don’t have that stuff.”
Stan Ward, USD 383 coordinator of federal/state funds and grants, said the community response for the program has been incredible.
The program itself has experienced a recent surge in support this past month.
“It went from an invisible problem to a great community response,” Ward said.
Ward said it’s not just the donations that have increased.
Community leaders in the city and county have started preliminary plans for an event in January that would involve many of the services for those less fortunate.
“It has really kick-started an incredible snowball effect in the community,” Ward said.
The kids also started gaining momentum with their sorting.
The piles of clothes and shoes became more organized as the children hung coats and matched items by size and gender.
After looking at some of the clothing, Ward could have provided an answer to McFall’s inquiry about the quality of clothes.
“What’s amazing is how much is so new,” he said. “There are still tags on them.”