Thousands turned out Saturday for a Convoy of Hope event in southwest Wichita that provided free food, clothing and other services to people in need.
The event, in its second year, was held at Bethel Life Center at 3777 S. Meridian and was serving more than 2,400 people by 10:15 a.m.
“God bless everyone for doing this,” said Laura Melendez of Wichita, who was standing in a briskly moving line to a large tent where free clothing was being distributed.
Melendez, a mother of four children ages 1 to 7, said she was hoping to get school uniforms for some of them.
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“It’s a really nice help from everyone,” she said, adding that she heard about the event from a friend. “It’s a really nice thing to do.”
Gail Starnes of Bethel Life, who coordinates the event, said she and her team of more than 900 volunteers – some of whom came from as far as Nebraska – were prepared to help up to 10,000 people on Saturday.
“We served 6,400 last year,” Starnes said. Unlike last year, there was no crush of people waiting to get in when it opened at 10 a.m., she said. By mid-morning she characterized the crowd flow as “steady.”
An official said late Saturday afternoon that organizers didn’t yet have a final count of how many people were served.
The event provided free groceries and lunches, shoes, school supplies, haircuts and family portraits. Some free medical services were also provided, such as immunizations and hearing, vision, blood sugar, blood pressure and HIV testing. There also was a Kid Zone with inflatables and a portable stage set up for live music and performances by dancers.
Starnes said she had known for years about Convoy of Hope, a faith-based international humanitarian relief organization. But when she was in Springfield, Mo., a few years ago, she got a chance to tour its facilities and learn more about it. Then, when Bethel Life got a new pastor, “he started talking about it.”
With that momentum, Bethel Life successfully approached Convoy of Hope about partnering on a Wichita event, she said.
She said Bethel Life had for years done outreach work to help the poor, but on a smaller scale. The Convoy of Hope partnership enables Bethel Life to help more people.
“You can’t do by yourself what we could do here (through Convoy of Hope),” Starnes said. She added that other area churches – and businesses – help with the event.
Faye Williams of Wichita said the event’s timing was nearly perfect for her.
The mother of three children ages 9 to 15 was there to get school supplies. Williams said her household expenses are tight right now. That’s because her husband’s mother died and they had to pay her funeral expenses.
“It’s real helpful,” she said. “At least they’ll have a little something to start the first few days (of school).”