Every August our church hosts a backpack giveaway event at the local elementary school, providing new backpacks and school supplies to hundreds of children in the area and giving all the families an afternoon of free fun with a street fair, bounce houses, games, face painting, and food.
This year was the first time my hubby and I were able to take part in the ministry since the past few years we have been out of town or on vacation the weekend of the event.
I was truly anticipating getting to be involved and even more so when I was asked to serve that day as the event photographer. Not only did I take that as a compliment (I am not a professional photographer at all), but that meant that I got to be everywhere throughout the afternoon and really see all that was taking place.
Had I been working a game or swirling the cotton candy onto a stick, it would have been wonderful, too, but I would have missed out on all the little moments of interactions between our church volunteers and the children they served. I might not have seen the adorable little smiles sticky with fresh cotton candy devoured before they had cleared the line. I’d have missed the opportunity to coax a snarl out of one of the little boys who’d gotten his face painted like a wolf. I wouldn’t have been near the backpack distribution tables to see the delight on a little girl’s face when she received the brand-new pink butterfly backpack that she wanted.
I also wouldn’t have been beside those same tables to witness one of the most genuine displays of gratitude of the day from a young boy whom I hope to always remember.
To receive their backpacks, families started out by visiting the registration table, and then they made their way around the school to come in through the playground gates to the distribution tables. There the children had their pick of at least a dozen patterns and styles of backpacks. Once they had their bags, they are invited to enjoy the festivities and food with their families until the event was over.
That sounds simple enough until you consider that we gave away over 1,000 bags this year, which means hundreds of families waiting in line to register and pick out a bag. The line was wrapped around the block before the event even opened.
It was also in the afternoon, in August, which meant it was hot, very hot. Even with the snow cones, water bottles, and sprinkler systems set up, it was a long, hot wait in a very long line for these families, not because our people were inefficient – the organization was actually rather impressive- but because there were so many with a need.
So as I watched the children swarm the distribution tables once the event started, I felt honored to be a part of helping meet that need.
That’s when I noticed the boy in the bright green shirt. He was being very kind and patient as he waited for the type of bag he’d picked out. Looking through my lens, I was ready to capture the moment one of the volunteers handed it to him. Instead I was able to grab a different moment.
Glancing around him, he noticed other children opening their backpacks and checking out what pencils and other school supplies were inside them.
And he got excited, seriously excited.
He said, “There is stuff in it?!?”
When one of the workers confirmed that, yes, each bag comes with supplies, he exuberantly and genuinely said, “Oh, wow! Awesome! Thank you!”
And I caught THAT smile.
Honestly, I wish I’d had a video camera instead of just my regular camera at the time.
To think that he had waited in that tremendously long line on an extremely hot day without complaining, in the hopes of getting an empty, though new, backpack. That would have been an amazing enough gift for him.
He was so authentically grateful to receive more than he had expected, something that most of us would take for granted. Some pencils and paper, a box of tissues. He valued it and appreciated it, and he left a mark on my heart.
I know it is often said, in some way or another, that when you teach, you learn, or when you minister, you get ministered to.
I was doing one of the easiest, most fun jobs of the day (I even got in the bounce house for the sake of some cool pictures). It was truly a privilege to be a part of this wonderful ministry and serve with all the generous, hard-working, loving people who helped make it happen. That ministered to me, and it would have been enough of a gift for me.
But God, who always gives more than we expect, said, “Here you go. A beautiful shot, a more beautiful moment. Capture the joy of true thankfulness and remember it.”