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Church helps kids head back to school

Owner of Vickie’s Hair Fashion, Victoria Riccardi, of Cortland, styles seven-year-old Breanna Wing’s hair Saturday during a back to school event at Believers’ Chapel in Cortland.

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Owner of Vickie’s Hair Fashion, Victoria Riccardi, of Cortland, styles seven-year-old Breanna Wing’s hair Saturday during a back to school event at Believers’ Chapel in Cortland.

Hundreds of families flocked Saturday afternoon to Believers’ Chapel Cortland and Courthouse Park to receive haircuts, before-school photos and backpacks filled with school supplies.

This was the third year of the event, said Jon North, pastor and organizer. The event, from 3 to 10 p.m., featured food, games, a bounce house, backpack give away, haircuts, face painting, a movie in the park and photos of the children, North said.

“It originated with the backpacks and now we tried to make it more of a family event,” he said.

“We (the church group) looked around and found that parents in the community needed help,” North said.

The church at 49 Grenbush St. gave away 80 backpacks its first year, but quickly ran out. The second year the group doubled that to 160 backpacks, North said. But once again, the group ran out quickly.

Also the second year the event was held hairdressers were added, North said. This year saw 320 packs and three hairdressers.

“We have 320 but we’re still not going to have enough,” North said.

Backpacks came in many colors and styles. Each backpack was filled with paper, pencils, crayons, notebooks and folders for the children, North said.

For the first year, photographs of the children were offered. The church hired Cortland photographer Mike Sampson.

“It (the photos) helps with their (kids) confidence,” Sampson said. “It makes them feel and look good.”

It gives parents a chance to see how their children change over time, he added.

Randall School Brownie Troop 10362 helped hand out the packs, giving the girls an opportunity to see other people, said Lisa Smith, troop leader. “This event is huge for Cortland. It’s needed,” Smith said. “It helps some people out a lot and makes it so some people have less to worry about.”

This year marked the third year coming to the event for Martika West and her two children, second-grader Oshianna and Head Start student Steven. West sees the event as good for the community. “The fact that they are helping out families that need help is good,” she said.

Scott Laforce of Cortland said this was his first year at the event, watching his kids in a game trailer. “It brings aspects of the community together,” Laforce said. “It enables a broad range of people to get together and support the community.”

“There are times when a family can struggle and a helping hand is needed,” said Darien Clark, who has been bringing his four children to the event since the first year.

Funding for the event comes from the Wilkins Foundation, garage sales, bottle drives, donations. Food was donated by Tops Supermarket, North said.

Next year the plan for the event is to go bigger, North said. The number of backpacks will be increased to 500. And the group hopes to offer a school outfit to each kid.

The group works by the motto “continue to make Cortland great,” North said. “If we can help kids and families out, then we should.”

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