Since 2000 the Bethel Mall, an event put together by members of the Bethel United Methodist Church and other volunteers, has provided thousands of local children with school necessities each year in August.
New and gently used brand name clothing, shoes, hygiene items and school supplies are selected by the lucky recipients with the help of "personal shoppers" and then tucked away in new backpacks. "Last year we served 873 kids and had over 200 volunteers come out to help," said Bev Armstrong, who does quite a lot of the shopping for the event. "Everything is donated and we had 28 churches from around the county that contributed in some way. Some donate items and others donate money to purchase items we need."
Each year Armstrong and other avid volunteers go out in search of items for the children. "We try really hard to get items that are in style," said Kerri Dalton, who also helps with the event. "We want the kids to have things they like. We want them to fit in. Last year, the brightly covered tennis shoes were very popular but it changes each year."
Tennis shoes became a standard item in the mall in 2006. Prior to that, shoes were available only until the supply was depleted.
"Over the years, we've found that the kids feet keep getting bigger and bigger," said Armstrong with a laugh. "Now we know we usually need more larger sizes."
Never knowing the exact number of children that will pass through the mall doors sometimes makes getting enough supplies tricky.
Dalton said that many years volunteers make trips the day of the event to stores to pick up items the mall has ran out of. "We want the kids to all have the same quality of items whether they are the first child through the line or the last. Bev usually gets a call while at the store saying we need more of something that wasn't on the list when she initially headed out."