More than 100 beds bagged by Methodist church members will give homeless children in McDowell County a comfort of their own each night.

For the past several months, 19 Methodist churches in the county raised funds and applied for a grant to purchase sleeping bags, pillows, air mattresses and pumps for their bed in a bag project supplied to McKinney Vento students in McDowell County. On Saturday, Aug. 25, church and community members gathered at the First United Methodist Church in Marion to assemble the bags.

“Our hearts are filled with gratefulness for the bed-in-a bag service project,” said Natalie Gouge, director of student services for McDowell County Schools. “Our schools are truly blessed by the community support, love and care for our children in this county. The role of the Mckinney Vento program is to provide equal access, stability and success for eligible students who are in transition. A big piece of that is removing barriers to their education.”

The McKinney Vento Act is a federal law protecting the rights of homeless children and youths in school. During the 2017-2018 school year, 697 students were considered homeless in McDowell, meaning under the law, ‘individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence…’.

Pastor Warren Owens of the First United Methodist Church said the goal for the project is to provide the students with a bit of “dignity, comfort and hope.”

“That is the aim,” he said. “These kids are moving around all the time and don’t know what bed they will be sleeping in, and this way they can have the same bedding night after night no matter what roof they are sleeping under. The bed in a bag program has been well supported by a lot of different Methodist churches.”

Gouge, along with McKinney Vento counselor Ann James, recently helped pack bags that day at the church and were overwhelmed with gratefulness. James works in four elementary schools and serves about 150 students.

“We are truly blessed to be here and the churches have always stepped up and meet needs we couldn’t possibly meet on our own, and we thank you for that,” James said at the church.

In the bags also contained a note with the initials of those who volunteered and helped with the project.

“We are including cards of people that helped so that they will know there is a community of people that care about them. Without hope, there is no power for the living,” said Pastor Owens.

On a separate mission, First United Methodist Church donated Make An Impact food bags for students at Marion Elementary School, right across the street from the church. The bags include cereal, soup, crackers, fruit cups, canned pasta and other snacks for students who have food insecurities during the weekends.

“The Make an Impact campaign provides a valuable service to Marion Elementary. The weekend food bags are packed with love using food donations from church members. These bags help supply much needed food for the weekend for some of our students. Distribution of food bags occurs every Friday of the school year,” said Marion Elementary Principal Ashley McCartha. “Approximately 1,400 food bags were distributed throughout the 2017-2018 school year. Make an Impact donations also include much needed classroom supplies of tissues, cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer. Marion Elementary is blessed to have such a supportive faith community partner in First United Methodist Church.”

The church also held Make an Impact 5K.

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