Cars lined the street leading to Forestwood Park in Ferguson Saturday for a resource fair organized by a faith-based non-profit that specializes in disaster relief and outreach to the poor.
Convoy of Hope’s “Day of Hope” provided a free meal and a kid’s carnival to anyone who stopped by the park, along with health screenings, haircuts, and other goods and services.
Attendees weren’t required to show proof of need or residence.
“We have a guest of honor principle,” Convoy of Hope’s Molly Erickson said. “We want to treat every guest with dignity and respect because we all fall on hard times and we understand that it’s hard. It’s hard to admit that you need help and it’s hard to ask for help. So we want people to be able to come in and just have this poverty-free day.”
Convoy of Hope partnered with more than 40 local churches to organize the event and gather the necessary funding and volunteers. To pay for tents, food, portable toilets and the like (including 35,000 pounds of groceries), the group raised about $1 million. That included contributions from Convoy of Hope.
“We’re here to serve our guests, make sure our guests are well-treated, make sure they have a stress-free day, and be able to provide goods and services that make their life better,” said Bishop Larry O. Jones of Greater Grace Church in Ferguson.
Jones said the churches chose Ferguson as the location because “we were concerned after all of the negative news after the shooting of Michael Brown we wanted something to be positive in Ferguson.”
“We want people to see that people in Ferguson can pull together and work as a community versus what was shown on T.V.,” Jones said.
Pastor Jack Hembree is on the steering committee that gathered the local volunteers and funding. He said after last year’s unrest it was important to him to hold the event in Ferguson.
“For me it’s personal. I live here,” said Hembree, who has pastored Bethel Fellowship Assembly of God in Florissant for 23 years.
“I have twelve families in my church who live here, and this town is a fantastic town (with) diverse, wonderful, good people,” Hembree said. “In every community there are always the underlying struggles and racial things. But one of the things about Ferguson that’s good is that it’s been diverse. And what is being seen outside is not really this town. And so we wanted to come in and we were hoping that people would see the town. See how wonderful the people are, how well they do get along, how much they like each other.”
At the National Breast Cancer Foundation tent, volunteers taught participants how to check for signs of cancer with self-exams. Ferguson resident Daphne Brown says she made a point of stopping by that tent first.
“Some people don’t take the time or don’t have transportation to go get breast exams, you know. And this is just good information to know. If you can’t get tested you can at least try and test yourself,” Brown said.
“I’m 56 so I need to be testing myself,” Brown added. “My doctor’s been getting on me (to do self-exams).”
Fellow Ferguson resident Christy Schibbelhut said she’s glad her 15-year-old daughter Mackenzie Oster had the opportunity to learn how to conduct the exam.
“I’ve heard of it in the past but having a child that needs to know more information, it was great,” Schibbelhut said.
As people left the park they were each given the opportunity to pray with a volunteer on their way to pick up a free bag of groceries.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.