The Matthew 25 Project estimates that it served 1,800 children in the Van Buren area at their seventh annual Back to School Bash on Monday, Aug. 8.
The event had cars backed up for miles around the First Baptist Church on Main Street. Families with children ages 5-18 years old drove through the church's parking lot to receive backpacks with school supplies, hygiene packs, groceries, and a free dinner.
Behind the church's daycare, the Barnabas Bus was set up with free clothing and shoes for students through Butterfield Church.
Across the street at the city municipal complex, the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care was set up to give free COVID-19 vaccines.
Downtown at Splendor Studio Salon & Permanent Makeup, students could have their hair cut at no cost.
Amanda Parker, owner of the salon, said the hairstylists participate in the event strictly for the families.
Joy Holman, a volunteer with the project for the last seven years, said she comes back to see the smiles on the children's faces.
One of the donors for the event, United Federal Credit Union, passed out candy with information about the Arkansas Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children.
Kim Wilson, the union's senior relationship development manager said it's important to her to give back to her community.
"Just being involved in my community, in any way that I can be, whether that be monetary, or just time that I can give back," she said.
Wilson said her favorite part of the event is making connections with the families.
"(The) interactions, getting to see the kids being so excited to be receiving the items that we have for them," she said.
The Western Arkansas Child Development Center donated boxes of non-perishable food for area families through a partnership with the River Valley Regional Food Bank.
The center's CEO Malinda McSpadden said the event was one of the most organized events she has participated in.
"It's just a really cool thing to see churches kind of going after one mission together, that's really endearing to me," she said. "And it's also loving on people outside the church. It just warms my heart to really see all of these people with one common mission of doing nothing but helping people in need."
McSpadden noted that the center is seeing a higher need in the Alma area with the current impact from inflation.
"The numbers are staggering right now," she said. "Last year, we had families getting some stimulus help which was wonderful, but that that has ended and prices of everything are up. If you're living on a fixed income, like our seniors, they're not purchasing things that they would have purchased a couple of years ago and so it causes me some concern. And we're going to stay after it and help all we can as long as we can."
This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: 11 churches and 19 Van Buren organizations serve over 1,000 families