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East County's Sarah Nicklis, Joshua Nicklis, Matthew Brannen and Elizabeth Nicklis sort folders during the backpack stuffing party.
East County Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017 3 years ago

Grace Community Church in Lakewood Ranch fuels back-to-school benefit

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Grace Community Church raises $15,000 for school children.
by: Berkley Mason Staff Writer

Grace Community Church’s Neil and Shirley McArthur have had a passion for serving those less fortunate. 

“It comes from the struggles we had raising seven children in our household,” Shirley McArthur said. “Being able to feed them, give them school clothes and Christmas gifts was hard, especially with all of the bills we had.”

This will be the couple’s 29th year running Eternal Bread of Life Community Outreach which helps them provide clothing, backpacks and school supplies to families in the Newtown community of Sarasota.

“Poverty is most definitely a problem here,” Neil McArthur said. “A lot of parents are not there for their children. This is a start to getting children ready for school and even college.”

The McArthurs said that what they are doing now is something that would have helped them when they were struggling.  

On Aug. 12 at the Boys & Girls Club in Sarasota, the Grace Community Church in Lakewood Ranch and Bread of Life Community Outreach partnered for the fourth year in a row to provide 200 families (550 children) with everything they need for the first day of school.

The backpacks, and the school supplies inside, were funded by Grace Community Church, costing the church $15,000.

“It took four weeks for us to raise all the funds,” said Jessica Obenauer, the Grace Community Church outreach director. “We are so blessed as a church, and the congregation wants to help.”

On the day of distribution, the families who were picking up backpacks also received 250 bags of free food donated by All Faiths Food Bank, as well as manicures, haircuts and professional photos.

Sarasota’s Ziarre Smith, 6, took advantage of a pink manicure.

“I thought I was going to get my haircut,” Smith said.”But then I saw the nail station and I was so excited.”

Those who registered for distribution day voiced their appreciation for the charity.

Jessica Thomas, of Sarasota was attending the event for the first time. Her son, Owen McDonnell, will be starting kindergarten.

“Owen is so excited to finally be going to school,” Thomas said. “This whole event has been very helpful for us. We really can’t afford a lot of this stuff.”

Grace Community Church hopes the recipients know someone cares about them.

“We just love to help the community,” Obenauer said. “We are big community people over at Grace Community Church, we just love getting involved and giving back.”

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