Todd Womack remembers Bassett Park from his early years of growing up.
Like other landmarks in the city, the park reminds him of the larger community and the various residents who form its tapestry. Thousands of the residents and their families are expected to visit Bassett, located at 1300 Greenway Ave., at 10 a.m. Sept. 15 when the Convoy of Hope will be held for a second consecutive year.
The organization provides free resources that range from groceries to clothing and other necessities. Womack, associate pastor of Flint Central Church of the Nazarene, says the goal is to attract about 3,000 people.
A rally to recruit volunteers and receive ongoing donations will be held at the church Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. the eve of the celebration at Bassett Park.
“We’re looking at placemaking as a concept, and turning a public space into a social space,” says Womack. “And because we’re faith-based, turning a social space into a spiritual space.”
An event held in communities nationwide where there are households and families in need, Convoy of Hope’s 2017 Flint outing was its first in about a dozen years, Womack says.
Along with thousands of bags of groceries, about 2,200 local residents received 450 pairs of children’s shoes, 350 haircuts and 3,000 clothing items last year. About 1,700 volunteers from 30 participating churches and 35 community organizations participated.
Within three years, Flint coordinators envision hosting simultaneous Convoy of Hope events in northern and southern locations of the city, says Womack.
“We’re probably generating more than a million dollars worth of resources,” he says.
Partnering with CNN, Convoy of Hope’s national team previously donated dozens of tractor-trailers filled with water during the apex of the water crisis, says Jeff Nene, national spokesperson.
“We do compassion and humanitarian efforts literally around the world,” he says.
In 2017 Convoy of Hope dispatched representatives to five different countries to provide hurricane relief support and hosted a women’s empowerment program, with its efforts primarily based on supplying food. Convoy of Hope community events, like Saturday’s in Flint, are hosted 30 to 40 times annually.
“They’re geared toward people in communities who are living in poverty or having a hard time financially,” Nene says.
Local churches, law enforcement and neighborhood-based agencies are recruited to support the initiative. They often get assistance from medical facilities that provide health screenings or corporations like Walgreens that offer free flu shots. Plum Organics has donated its popular children’s smoothies.
“It’s kind of like a festival that day,” Nene says. “When people come there’s an area where there are games for kids, blowups and bounce houses, things like that.”
The Sept. 15 convoy will offer groceries, hot lunch, haircuts, job and career consultation, nutrition services, all free of charge. Even family photo portraits will be available.
“A lot of people have never had the opportunity to have a family photo taken,” Nene says.
Formed in the mid-1990s, the first Convoy of Hope event was held in California, where journalist Hal Donaldson had established the program in the Bay Area. The initiative has grown to include about 250 employees around the globe.
Community celebrations are typically planned about a year in advance with churches or other agencies acting as local coordinators. Attendance at a “small event” can draw about 1,500, but the organization has hosted several that attracted more than 10,000 guests, Nene says.
“We’re fairly well-known in some denominational circles in the church world,” he adds.
But Convoy of Hope operates as a non-denominational program to unite local agencies that share the goal to help others at neighborhood outing.
“Really, the way those are designed is, we try to bring together the best that those communities have to offer,” says Nene.
“When the outreach is over, we close the doors to our trucks and go home, but the need is ongoing.”
No identification is necessary for guests at Convoy of Hope events to receive groceries or other resources.
Womack says Flint Central Church of the Nazarene credits Joy Tabernacle, the host congregation of Saturday’s program, for its work in the neighborhood.
Volunteers or anyone interested in attending can learn more about the event by visiting convoy.org/flint.
Womack looks forward to “seeing a public space come alive again, where you hear laughter and see people engage in relationships that are transparent.”
Convoy of Hope is a platform where participants help other Flint residents “feel like they are the guest of honor,” Womack says.
“That’s probably what’s been the most rewarding for me,” he says.