Backpacks stuffed with school supplies. An all-expenses-paid college tour. Free chicken lunches and drive-through prayers.
Local churches have creative ways to encourage teachers and equip students for a productive school year.
More than 30 churches affiliated with Front Porch Alliance's Nehemiah Project will distribute 5,700 backpacks filled with school supplies to 10 Title I elementary schools on Tuesday.
Second Missionary Baptist Church is picking up expenses for a college trip open to local high school students during fall break in October.
The East Hamilton Ministerial Association recently partnered with Chick-fil-A to provide free lunches to more than 400 Hamilton County teachers for a drive-through prayer lunch.
"We just want to let them know that they are loved, appreciated and prayed for," said Eddie Schwisow, Samaritan Center's communication director and a member of the East Hamilton Ministerial Association.
He's among church congregants across Chattanooga and North Georgia committed to supporting teachers and students by serving food, providing supplies and offering prayer.
"It's a tremendous need in our community to make sure our kids start out with the supplies they need," said Kelley Andrews, coordinator for the Nehemiah Project, which supplies backpacks to schools.
If students get on the right path of learning when they're small, they're likely to stay with the education process when they get older, said Andrews.
The Menlo Park Neighborhood Association plans to distribute school supplies from 11 a.m. to noon today at Greater Emmanuel Apostolic Church, 400 Tunnel Blvd.
"We have just been bombarded with so many stories of crime and incidences with youth," said church administrator Lisa Warfield. "We wanted to hold an event to unify and support the community."
The back-to-school bashes and teacher appreciation efforts come as Chattanooga rallies for academic improvement, especially for students at low-performing schools in high poverty areas. The city has six of the lowest-performing schools in the state.
Despite obstacles, local pastors and parishioners want educators to know that members of the community support them.
Ooltewah Seventh-day Adventist Church Pastor Peter Kulakov was among several pastors praying during the drive-through prayer and lunch earlier this month.
"Protect them. Guide them. Give them patience and love. Amen," he said after passing Chic-fil-A sandwiches and apples through a car window.
A day before the drive-through lunch and prayer in Ooltewah, Rock Bridge Community Church in Dalton, Ga., supplied all 472 students at Roan Elementary School with backpacks and school supplies. Members exceeded the goal to such an extent that the church also was able to provide supplies to two additional schools, according to a news release from Rock Bridge Pastor Tony Helton.
Destiny Church of Chattanooga partnered with the Hamilton County Health Department to offer a day of free blood pressure screenings and school supplies this month. Pastor Sheryl Randolph is also director of student services with the Hamilton County Department of Education.
Nicole Coleman, the church's outreach crew member, explained that the church wants to connect families with resources they can use throughout the year.
"We want to be a resource not only for the children but also for parents," said Coleman.
Catoosa County Baptist Association hosted an annual Back to School Fair last weekend.
It's a nice way to start a new school year, said Miranda Atkins after praying with a minister for her school.
"Just being blessed by the community and feeling appreciated just gives you that extra boost that we need to make it through the year," said Atkins, a teacher at Wolftever Creek Elementary School.
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