Rescue Mission’s giveaway prepares kids for school

Aug. 21, 2014 @ 04:47 PM

When Hurricane Sandy forced Kathy McKinnon to leave her home in Newark, New Jersey, she considered where she should start a new life with her family.

She chose Durham.
“I looked on the Web and saw that Durham was one of the top six places in the nation to raise a family,” McKinnon said as she balanced a plate of hotdogs Thursday at the Durham Rescue Mission’s back-to-school giveaway.
McKinnon was one of thousands who showed up to get free backpacks, clothes, groceries and snow cones at the mission’s center on East Main Street.
“It was hard for the children to leave all their friends and family after the hurricane,” she said. “We had to start all over. It took all our life savings to relocate.”
But she said moving to Durham was a good decision, and that the giveaway helped her financially.
“They hit it right on the button with the school supplies,” she said.
She wasn’t alone in her gratitude.
Marcia Ashe of Durham brought her two daughters, who got backpacks so they’ll be ready when school starts Monday.
“I’m a single mom, and I don’t have a lot of money, so this is very helpful,” she said. “By the time I pay my bills, I have no more money. It’s a blessing to come here.”
For 33-year-old Brandon Scott, being disabled and having to prepare four children for school strains his wallet.
“We’re struggling now, so this helps us,” said Scott, whose only income is from his wife’s job.
Dana Shapiro was holding three bags of free clothes she got at the giveaway for the seven children in her family.
Shapiro lost her job in July.
“Children need things, so anytime you have decent people who are helping you, it’s a blessing,” the 38-year-old single mother said.
This was the 12th year the Rescue Mission has sponsored the back-to-school event, according to the Rev. Ernie Mills, who founded the Christian-based homeless shelter with his wife, Gail, 40 years ago.
Mills said people started lining up at 4 a.m. -- five hours before the gates opened.
“There’s a lot of need,” Mills said. “With the Great Recession, a lot of people were laid off, and those who were rehired got a lower salary.”
Mills said he looks at Thursday’s giveaway “as homeless prevention, dropout prevention and gang prevention.”
“If we can keep these kids in school, they’re less likely to join a gang, so we see it as helping many potential problems that Durham could have.”
Mills said he never forgot the taunts he got as a child growing up on his father’s hog farm.
“Kids make fun of one another for ragged clothes or a ragged backpack, and I had a flashback to my childhood days,” he said. “Our hog pen was just 300 feet from our house. I remember one day getting on the school bus. I had clean clothes on, but everything in the house had that sweet aroma of the hog pen, and that’s what my clothes smelled like.”
Mills said that when he sat beside another student on the bus, the boy turned to him and said: “Whew! You stink!” The boy moved to another seat.
“It was like a dagger,” Mills, 69, said. “And I want to help prevent something like that (humiliation) in Durham.”
Mills commended the corporate sponsors of  Thursday’s event, including GlaxoSmithKline, which donated 3,000 backpacks.
“It boggles my mind to see how the community has come together to make this possible,” Mills said as he looked at the crowd of volunteers and visitors. “This is the largest gathering that I know of anywhere in the Triangle of the haves and have-nots. There are many things that try to divide our community, but this event is made to pull the community together. If we work together, we can solve our problems.”