METHUEN — Seventy-five students from kindergarten through grade 12 are going to be extra ready to go back to school in a few weeks thanks to First Church Congregational, a strong neighborhood group, the Methuen Exchange Club, the Masons and other volunteers.
Each student will have a new T-shirt, hooded sweat shirt, jeans, shoes and a backpack full of "age-appropriate" school supplies, according to Lisa Yarid Ferry, coordinator of the First Church Congregational/Methuen Arlington Neighborhood Back to School Project.
Several volunteers gathered at the church last week to begin the lengthy, painstaking process of sorting clothes.
"We need a boy's medium."
"Where's the extra small?"
"We need a girl's large."
It's quite an operation to make sure the right-sized pair of jeans, for example, gets assigned to the right student.
Directing the sorting was Beth Buck, a church member who is employed by the Methuen schools as a teacher's assistant for children with special needs.
"I love the kids," she said when asked why she was overseeing the sorting of 75 outfits for young people rather than doing something more fun and relaxing.
"We take seriously that we are part of the community," said the Rev. William Ingraham, pastor of First Church.
The Arlington neighborhood, where the students live, is close to the church, he noted.
"We want every kid going back to school to feel proud of themselves," he said.
The young people will pick up their new outfits and school supplies the morning of Aug. 17 at the church, Ingraham said. Each child will write a thank-you card to a man or woman who is serving in the military.
"They join us in mission," Ingraham explained.
Mission, he said, is something the church does "with" the community, not "to" or "for."
"They are great kids," Ingraham said. "They are polite and friendly."
"This is one of our big things," said Robert Mundry, a board member of the Exchange Club.
He pointed out one of the club's main missions is helping children. Besides supporting the backpack project, the Exchange Club provides a cookout for the residents of St. Anne's Home and treats them to a Lowell Spinners game, he said.
His friend and fellow Exchange Club board member Brad Jones said the group also organizes Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas parties for children.
Mundry and Jones are both Eagle Scouts. They said the Exchange Club gives them the opportunity to continue to help others, a value they acquired during their years as Boy Scouts.
"Just trying to help out," Linda Camerato, yet another Exchange Club board member, said when she was asked why she was there.
Donors to the Back to School Project include state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen; state Reps. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, Christina Minicucci, D-North Andover and Frank Moran, D-Lawrence; Methuen Mayor James Jajuga; former Mayor William Manzi; City Council Chairwoman Jennifer Kannan and City Councilors Lynn Vidler and James McCarty; Commonwealth Motors; John Hancock Lodge AF and AM (Masons); Occupational Health Connection; Enterprise Bank; Methuen Exchange Club; New Balance Footwear Co.; Borislow Insurance Party Connection; and many members of First Church Congregational.