To ease the burden of the rising cost of living and create a sense of stability, Patrick “PJ” Balzer and his wife Catherine Gutierrez, of The Kings Kids Christian Outreach in Mastic Beach, and their group have been facilitating yet another back-to-school drive this year.
For over nine years, the couple and their group have been handing out hundreds of backpacks and supplies to area children in need. The back-to-school drive started with one mom asking for help with purchasing a backpack and supplies, and has since grown to 20 backpacks the following year, all the way up to 350 a few years ago.
“We really had a lot of fun and consider ourselves truly blessed to be able to serve our community before school begins each year,” said Balzer. “We wanted to be in a highly visible area with a lot of traffic and foot traffic. We knew many people that we know already would stop down, yet we also desired to serve families that we don’t know. William Floyd is a huge district, one of the biggest on the island.”
With that in mind, Balzer and his group set up in the parking lot of Family Dollar, on Montauk Highway in Mastic, on the evening of Aug. 21, to distribute backpacks and supplies.
“There is also a pretty large laundromat in the same strip of stores, which helped our location decision,” he added. “We wanted to possibly serve people, families, single mothers that may be there doing their laundry while thinking how they were going to make ends meet with a new school year approaching. We wanted to possibly be an answer to their prayers.”
With donations from many different groups, local families and individuals, the group distributed over 200 backpacks with school supplies in total. They also had volunteers from four different churches offering the opportunity to pray for the children at their request.
“We prayed for their safety, peace of mind, to meet friends that help keep them on a good path, and a successful school year,” he said. “We also prayed for our district and its hundreds of employees and staff.”
Despite the heat and humidity, Balzer said that everyone left feeling encouraged and full of joy.
“There’s something special about being around children who are so excited,” he added. “It actually fills your heart as you give of yourself to help them.”
Supplies are still needed. To donate, reach out to Balzer on Facebook or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations are also being accepted via their GoFundMe.