RUMFORD — Krista Morrisey of Rumford, with seven children in tow, was one of the first people to visit the various tents during the fourth annual Culture of Compassion giveaway Saturday on the DARE Field.

The event, organized by the Praise Assembly of God Church in Rumford, offered free groceries, gently used clothing and school supplies for needy families in the River Valley.

After picking up the red Culture of Compassion backpacks for her school-age children, Morrisey made her way over to the section that included free footwear and clothing.

“This is a lifesaver,” she said, as she looked around to make sure all of her children, ages 1 to 10, were still with her. Morrisey said that like last year, her main reason for coming was for school supplies.

“Everything is getting very expensive,” she said.

Pastor Justin Thacker said, “The reason we do Culture of Compassion is because we care about the well-being of our entire River Valley community. Our goal is to be ‘Jesus with skin on.’ There is no other motive or agenda.”

Brandie Ledesma, the Culture of Compassion coordinator, said there were 100 more backpacks this year because 500 was just barely enough last year. “We’ve got notebooks, composition books, folders, pencil boxes full for high-schoolers, pens and pencils, erasers, note cards. A lot of stuff I purchased last year at the end of the season when it all went on sale, to save money. We can always use more because last year we actually ran out of backpacks.”

She added, “This isn’t about Praise Assembly, per se. We’re just hosting it, and other churches are getting involved with helping us out. And the businesses, Main Street Dental Hygiene, Rumford Hospital, are big helpers.”

There was a registration table, a kids’ zone, a health tent for dental education and blood pressure checks, a place for a free meal and groceries to take home.

Making their first public appearance were members of the River Valley Children’s Oral Health Project, which had a table in the Health Tent.

Partners working the table were Patricia Duguay of River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition, Registered Nurse Marilyn Swan of Swift River Medicine, and Lisa Doherty from Main Street Dental Hygiene of Mexico.

The project is sharing $224,285 from Maine Oral Health Funders to support efforts to improve oral health in children and to prevent childhood dental disease. The initial local grant award of $45,000 was announced last month.

Duguay, who will oversee the project, said, “We have all kinds of partners involved in this: someone from WIC, Community Concepts, Community Dental, Swift River Family Medicine, Lisa Doherty from Main Street Dental Hygiene of Mexico, Family Planning. We’re targeting those who interact with pregnant women and young children.”

“This is truly the community coming together to serve the community,” Ledesma said.

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