A Florida megachurch will hold a back-to-school backpack drive this weekend to help the children of families affected by the Gulf Coast oil spill.
Northland, A Church Distributed, based in Longwood, Fla., will team up with one of its online congregants who lives in the affected area to collect a total of 1,000 backpacks filled with school supplies for the children in Houma, La.
Terri Goulette, who lives in Houma and worships with Northland each weekend via interactive webstream, came up with the idea while recalling that Northland holds an annual school drive.
"They were expecting a plentiful season this year, but just two weeks before the fishing season opened, the oil spill happened," Goulette explained. "It has been very hard riding down the bayous and seeing all the shrimp boats and oyster boats just lined up when they should be harvesting seafood."
Goulette will be responsible for collecting 500 school supply-filled backpacks in her local area and Northland will donate another 500 backpacks. The backpacks will be given to the children of commercial fishermen, shrimpers, oystermen, truck drivers, ice factory workers and others.
In addition to the children in Houma, Northland church will also donate additional backpacks it collects to homeless children in Central Florida who cannot afford back-to-school supplies. The backpacks will be given to several local organizations for distribution.
Last year, the church collected about 2,000 backpacks, according to Robert Andrescik, the church's director of public relations.
Andrescik noted that Northland online worshiper and corporate pilot Herb McCormick had just flown into Florida this week and handed church staff Nathan Clark a backpack filled with school supplies. McCormick was on his way to Hong Kong where he will fly corporate jets for heads of major corporations.
"It could be humiliating for a kid to start school without supplies or a backpack. Nobody wants that to happen," remarked Nathan Clark, Northland's director of digital innovation and an online minister for the church. "A backpack drive is such a simple and practical way to help."
The backpacks will be filled with all the supplies a child needs for his or her first day of school: notebooks, loose-leaf paper, folders, three-ring binder, pens, pencils, and crayons, among other things.
"We were already doing a drive in Longwood near one of our physical sites when an online worshiper from Louisiana decided she wanted to help families in her community too," Clark reflected. "So now we have two backpack drives at Northland. It's really just a great example of the church distributed at work."
The 12,000-membered Northland Church meets throughout the Orlando metro area and worldwide through its interactive webcast. The church first began its "distributed sites" – live, two-way video connections between locations – in 2001. It began webcasting live services in 2003, and a few years later launched an interactive webstream that includes immediate access to an online pastor and the ability to chat instantly with other worshipers.
About 2,000 people worship with Northland using the interactive webstream option.