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Heart of the City hosted Gear up 4 School event in Wilsonville Aug. 21 for those in need

PMG PHOTO: CLARA HOWELL  - Shawna Thomas paints faces at the Gear up 4 School event. Amanda Rogers' niece and nephews would have attended the first day of school empty-handed if her community didn't step in and help donate school supplies.

At the Heart of the City building in Wilsonville — a nonprofit organization run by Grace Chapel — families recently collected school supplies like pencils, notebooks, backpacks and scissors — as well as hygiene products — for free.

"There's not a lot of events around that help people that need school supplies because it's so expensive," said Rogers, who volunteered at Heart of the City's Gear up 4 School event Aug. 21. "It's nice for them (children) to be able to come and get the things they need so they can go to school and fit in and not feel like kids are judging them because they don't have a backpack or have the correct school supplies."

The second annual turnout of the supply drive was a success.

At 8 a.m., just one hour before the event began, families lined the sidewalks. And by the time the two-hour event finished, volunteers had helped about 170 children, 20 more than last year.

"We had a lot of our Spanish (speaking) families come this year so I'm happy about that. So we had a lot of translators for that. We wanted to make that easy," said Heart of the City Director Lyn Whelchel.

Gear up 4 SchoolWilsonville High School junior Anna Henderson, who volunteered during the event last year and this year, said she enjoys getting to know members of her community and giving back.

"It can help people with low income, or anybody, to get the supplies that the need because school supplies are really expensive when it comes down to it," she said.

Carrie Harper brought her two granddaughters to the event. During summer, she found out she would be raising the two girls permanently.

"They've (Heart of the City) helped us out a lot, like helped me pay my rent because I had to take a leave of absence from work for the summer to care for them … and then they told us about all of this and it's just good for the people that can't afford it, like us. We're a one-income family and now I'm not working," Harper said. "This seriously saves us like 80 bucks and then they got free haircuts and I just made their appointments and they go on Friday. … This is great for the community. It's good. It brings everybody together."

Uniting the community is one of the reasons Jake Schwein, director of justice and partnerships at the Heart of the City, thinks the nonprofit exists: to love and serve the community.

"This (event) is just one tangible way and a visible expression of that," he said. "We love our schools here in Wilsonville; we believe in them; we're about them. So this helps to provide the resources they need to get ready for school. More than that, Heart of the City would be a place that potentially if these families need more help and more care, that it's a safe place that they can come. We have all sorts of resources."

Schwein said the effort to create a fun environment for families at the Gear up 4 School event was to encourage families to attend and help them feel comfortable.

"Depending on the family, depending on their situation, it can be hard to admit need," Schwein said. "We want to make it a fun experience and (make sure) there's dignity. We're huge believers in dignity."

Next year, Heart of the City would like more community donors so the nonprofit can expand the supply drive to high schoolers and provide students with items like graphic calculators, USB flash drives and index cards.

The remaining school supplies from the August event were delivered to local schools.

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