SENIOR pastor at the Hope Gospel Assembly Rev Peter Garth says the church's annual back-to-school fair will be in full swing today, thanks to the overwhelming contributions of Jamaica Observer readers who pledged donations, after reading about the church's challenges in hosting the event this year.
Rev Garth was contemplating scaling down the annual event as companies that had donated money in the past were unable to make such commitment this year due to financial constraints. The church was also unable to secure a large shipment of back-to-school supplies from their foreign donors in time for the fair, because they had missed the deadline to receive a duty waiver given to charity organisations under a new policy introduced by the Government.
Given the challenges, the pastor had initially intended to just focus on disbursing scholarships valuing about $300,000 to children who had maintained averages above 70 per cent in school. This amount represented about half of the cash value they had disbursed the previous year when they had the support of several Corporate Area companies. The pastor, however, was adamant that the church would never give up on helping to finance the education of the nation's children, and turned to his membership to make pledges.
Encouraged by Rev Garth's commitment to hosting the event in spite of the challenges, several companies and individuals contacted the pastor to enquire how they could assist.
"They read the article and have been calling to ask what they can do. Some have called to grant something for scholarships, and others are giving towards purchasing books and other things that we are doing," Rev Garth said. "In fact, there is a guy in Dubai who called and he is actually getting his co-workers to come together to help too, although he has come forward already to pledge money into it," he added.
The pastor said he was very pleased with the level of responses he had received from individuals and companies, both overseas and locally.
"It was really looking a little dim in terms of how we were going to get through with the purchasing of all these books and things, but we have been getting in money and even a couple of the companies that had initially said 'no', called to say that they are going to send something and they have actually sent it," he said.
In addition to the monetary contributions, he said persons have been dropping off books and Kingston Bookshop will be donating additional books. Given the donations, the church will be able to offer even more than the $300,000 worth of scholarships.
"We went through the list of (students) and there are other persons there who are qualified so if we continue to get the funding, then we will give them also."
Since the publication of the Observer article on Tuesday, the Government has also given the church the certificate that allows it to get a duty waiver for the shipment of school supplies they were expecting from overseas. This means that the church will now be able to distribute these items in time for the September opening of school.
"What I think the article did was to touch many persons, because everybody has brought in a little this and a little that and provided some funding," he said.
He said they had also previously written off the distribution of book vouchers which they had done in previous years; however, in view of the donations, some students will be able to receive these vouchers today.
The Hope Gospel Assembly back-to-school fair has become a calendar event, which sees up to 1,000 persons receiving school supplies free of cost from the church. The fair was officially launched five years ago, although the church had always assisted parents with school supplies prior to this.
"From the first day until now, we have never charged for registration or even a sharpener," Rev Garth said.