Something interesting and delightful happened out of a chaotic situation in Helena, Ark.

Ben Newell, a field worker in the Together for Hope Project of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, had a stack of school uniforms to separate into individual packages and distribute for a back-to-school event the next day. Because of some glitches and miscommunication, adult help was limited that evening.

Several of the school kids from Helena saw the plight of their leaders and mentors and suddenly joined forces to help the older workers and complete the task.

“You had kids 10 years old jumping in and help separate and organize the uniforms,” Newell said. “These are kids who had been helped and now they wanted to help. We had a bad situation and it turned into a good situation. That’s what you see in ministry. God surprises you.”

The next afternoon, 22 members of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock delivered packets of school supplies for 324 students. They also presented Newell with a check to pay for a set of uniforms, which cost $10 apiece, for each student.

It was the fourth year in a row the church has sent a group to Helena to assist with the Together for Hope back-to-school project. During July and early August, when back-to-school supply sales begin in retail and discount stores, members of Second Baptist buy an assortment of needed supplies of all kinds – paper, notebooks, crayons, pencils and so on. They are then sorted into equal packages for delivery.

In addition to those basic supplies, the bags given to each student contained basic toiletries, such as a toothbrush, toothpaste and shampoo.

Newell and his wife, Leonora, work with school officials in the Helena area to identify youngsters and families most in need of supplies. The names are compiled and supplies are divided by grade level.

“The main focus is to make sure these kids get what they need to start school,” Newell said.

When families checked in to a community center, young volunteers, consisting mostly of the Delta Gems, a club at the local high school, guided the families to age-graded stations for their supply bags and uniforms.

“Counting the uniform, each kid is receiving a packet worth about $22,” Newell said. “If there are three or four kids in a family, that’s $66 to $88 a family won’t have to spend on school supplies. Many of these families can’t afford to spend that much money on supplies.

“These packets can’t last them the whole year, we know that. But it’s a start. And the way kids are, you can get made fun of at school if you don’t have new supplies. Hopefully, it makes the kids feel better about themselves.”

“Many of these kids would not be able to buy uniforms that they need,” said James Valley, mayor of Helena, as he watched the supplies being distributed. “A lot of these kids are from single-parent homes and not having to buy supplies allows their families maybe to buy something else they need.”

Members of the Helena Fire Department and other city agencies help give out the supplies.

One young girl took a bag from a table, then returned it and grabbed another bag of supplies.

“Why did you change bags?” her mother asked.

“This one had a notebook with hearts on it,” she said.

Actually, they all did. It’s just some of the “hearts” that went into the bag were unseen.

David McCollum is a contributing editor to

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