WHEELING - The crowd that formed outside the Bethlehem Apostolic Temple in North Wheeling early Saturday morning stretched nearly a city block long as hundreds of school children and their families waited in line for free school supplies handed out by local volunteers.
The large crowd stood in the chilly morning to be assured backpacks, pencils, paper and other supplies donated by a generous public and collected with the help of the Wheeling Rotary and St. Clairsville Rotary clubs over the past few weeks.
In addition to school supplies that were distributed from the basement of the temple, the crowd was able to enjoy a Back to School Festival that began immediately after the supplies were given out to the crowd.
"Our goal is to send the kids back to school with a smile, obviously to show the love of God and to help as many people as we can," said the Rev. D.W. Cummings, pastor at Bethlehem Apostolic Temple and the new president of the Wheeling Rotary Club. Cummings was quick to thank all the local volunteers and generous supporters of the annual event.
"This is the community. The Bethlehem Temple is leading it, but this is definitely the community," Cummings said. "All of these people came out just to help other people ... that's what makes a community a community and we are very very appreciative of it," he added.
Susie Tolliver of Martins Ferry who was standing in line with her two daughters and has attended the back-to-school event in previous years said it is a wonderful event.
"I really think it is great that the community comes together as a whole," Tolliver said.
Each year between 400-500 students are each given about $35 worth of supplies. This marks the 24th year for the program and Cummings estimated the annual cost at $15,000. The event was prompted by Cummings' own childhood experiences as an inner city boy who moved to the suburbs and whose family had little spare money for school clothes or supplies.
This year, the program lost several major sponsors and has depended on the generosity of the public.