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Damian Garcia took a cue from Santa as he pulled a large bag on his back.

The fourth-grader then ended up carrying two weighty bags into Washington Elementary School.

But Garcia wasn’t the only huge-sack hauler. Members of Full Life Church in Fremont and other students toted several clothing-stuffed bags and boxes of shoes into the local school.

Inside, Erin Wegener fought tears when she saw the large pile of bagged clothes — ready to be given to schoolchildren who need warm gear this winter.

“Thank you guys,” said Wegener, the school counselor. “This helps a ton.”

On Thursday, Full Life Church — with help from local businesses and individuals — donated more than 700 items, which included 37 pairs of shoes and 13 winter coats for children who attend the Fremont school.

The donation came after a month-long gathering process to help kids at the school which serves 310 students from pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade.

Wegener said the donation will benefit the schoolchildren.

“It means opportunities for the kids,” she said. “They can go play. They can run in P.E. They can be typical kids without having the fear of being teased or made fun of because they don’t have the appropriate shoes, they don’t have enough clothes.”

Without the appropriate clothing, many children couldn’t go outside for recess in cold weather, because it wouldn’t have been safe. Wegener has seen several instances of children needing coats, sweaters, gloves and hats.

Usually, a school staff member will buy needed items.

Earlier this week, a child needed shoes.

“He had holes in his shoes and we had nothing,” Wegener said.

English Language Learners teacher Sarah Gutekunst also mentioned the need for socks, because children outgrow them so quickly.

After the Thursday presentation, she quietly looked at the large pile of sacks.

“I’m trying really hard not to cry,” Gutekunst said, speaking barely above a whisper. “Our kids come from really great families. They just need a little bit of help sometimes.”

Full Life Lead Pastor Mike Washburn expressed the church’s willingness to assist.

“We love to be a resource for the community to try to bless people,” Washburn said. “Jesus has blessed us and we want to bless others. That’s our goal. Our mission slogan is ‘Love God Passionately and Love People Compassionately.’”

Wegener smiled.

“I like that a lot,” she said softly.

A decision to help the school came during a church leader team meeting.

In 2017, the church adopted a family for Christmas.

When the church’s leadership team met last year, a member explained the need many students at Washington Elementary have for winter clothing.

So the church decided to adopt the school.

JJ Hartung, a leader at the church, contacted Washington Elementary Principal Diane Stevens, who listed the needed items which included coats, sweatpants, socks and shoes — any type of winter gear.

Hartung and Josh Meyer, administrative assistant, went to work on the Washington Elementary Outreach project, announced to parishioners on Dec. 6.

Members of the congregation and the public had until Jan. 6 to donate the items, which also included undergarments.

Meyer and Hartung used social media and the Tribune to spread word of the project and invite the public to participate.

“It was overwhelming to see the support of a lot of people from the community stopping in during (church) business hours and dropping off clothes — people who don’t even attend Full Life,” Hartung said.

Hartung talked with local companies. Companies providing financial donations were D&T Shirtified; Diers Ford and Sid Dillion-Chevrolet in Fremont.

Shoe Sensation at Fremont Mall donated footwear.

Hartung said he found the donations humbling and awesome.

Before church members brought the donations, Hartung called Wegener, letting her know about the hundreds of items.

“I got goosebumps and started crying, because I knew what it would mean to be able to not have to search for things for kids — or to be able to provide a kid with something right away,” Wegener said.

Washburn offered future help to the school and church members confirmed a desire to serve the community.

“We have a church family that really cares about people,” said member Roger Roach. “Jesus set the example for us to reach out to others. We’re here to help one another.”

Hartung could see how the clothes and shoes would help the students.

“These items are going to a good cause and these kids are going to be blessed because of everyone’s donations,” Hartung said. “It brings joy to my heart and blesses and humbles me to see the work of Christ go forth.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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