Rescue Mission's back-to-school giveaway draws thousands
The first child in line for the Durham Rescue Mission's back-to-school giveaway arrived soon after midnight Thursday - nine hours before the party began.
That's how great the need is.
"You know that child was desperate to get a backpack," Gail Mills, co-founder of the East Main Street mission, said. "With people's hours being cut back, a lot of single moms were struggling to make ends meet when they worked 40 hours a week. But when their hours get cut, there is absolutely no room in their budget for school supplies."
The mission helped plug that gap Thursday as it gave away backpacks, school supplies, groceries and more to thousands of schoolchildren and their families.
Keisha Taylor got two big bags of school clothes for her children, which she estimated will save her $100.
"It's a blessing," she said.
Seventeen-year-old Demarcus Patterson, a Hillside High School student, got a bag full of shirts to wear when school begins in about two weeks.
"Honestly, I will be spending money [for more school clothes], but this will help," he said.
In addition to a backpack, Vincent Horton, an eighth-grader at Shepard Middle School, won a basketball at one of the many carnival games that mission co-founder Ernie Mills loves to say "are rigged" in favor of the players.
But school supplies were only part of the party - 10,000 hot dogs lay in wait for those with growling stomachs.
Helping to prepare the dogs was Murphy Rumple, who arrived at 6 a.m. to get things fired up.
"My pastor taught me that giving is better than getting, so I enjoy being here and giving it away," he said. "What Pastor Mills has done here is extraordinary, and to be part of it is a lot of fun."
Georgetta Ray, 41, had taken a big bite of her fully dressed hot dog when a reporter asked a question. It took a minute to answer.
"They are really good!" she said. "I've been to every one of these that Ernie Mills has had for 25 years, and I enjoy myself every year."
Ray, who is disabled, brought her three children, and said the money she saves on school clothes and supplies makes a huge difference.
"I have no money this year, but thank God for the Rescue Mission," she said.
Among those at the event was Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin, who said the giveaway included something intangible.
"I know that a lot of these people feel like there's no hope," Ruffin said. "But hope is a powerful thing, and that's what the Rescue Mission is giving here today."