On a Saturday in late July, a small boy frantically waved to his father as Kara Altice-Montes and other Day 4 Hope volunteers from FUMC-Sarasota prepared to fill their truck with bags of food.
“Daddy, daddy, hurry! We’ve got food,” he said excitedly. “Daddy, we have food for a long time now. We have food!”
For Altice-Montes—who coordinated the church’s event with fellow member Linda DeLuca—that fleeting moment was a stark reminder of why Day 4 Hope is so vital.
“You see God connecting our church to the community and to people in need,” she said. “God was wild at work!”
First UMC Sarasota welcomed 200 families from Emma E. Booker Elementary School at its Day 4 Hope on July 27. Hundreds of volunteers showed up to serve lunch and help parents and children navigate the many different services provided, which ranged from back-to-school physicals and dental check-ups to haircuts and family portraits.
There were backpacks and school supplies for every student, as well as new books and official child IDs. Before leaving, every family was encouraged to fill a sack with fresh fruit from Detwiler’s Farm Market and given bags of nonperishable food from All Faiths Food Bank and $75 in gift cards to local stores.
“It’s so much fun,” said Altice-Montes, who has coordinated the event for the past four years. “It’s a lot of work, but I’ll tell you what, it’s a great time!”
This year, First Sarasota was one of 17 different churches that hosted a Day 4 Hope event over three separate weekends before students headed back to school. Another 23 churches across Sarasota and Manatee counties worked as partners.
By all accounts, the massive event, which draws a total of 4,250 volunteers, was a success.
“We served 2,865 kiddos in need,” said Pam Hawn, executive director of Hope 4 Communities, the nonprofit behind Day 4 Hope. “The thankful hearts and smiles are the best.”
The need for what Day 4 Hope offers is critical, she said.
“There are almost 900 homeless children in Sarasota and over 1,300 in Manatee,” Hawn said. “The number one thing the children struggle with is their self-esteem.”
Thanks to Day 4 Hope, those children can “show up the first day of school with everything the child who has everything has” and look forward to going back, she said.
For Altice-Montes, the best part of Day 4 Hope is the relationships forged with the students and their families.
“That’s kind of the heart of the program,” she said. “Every student gets an ambassador, a volunteer who takes them into the church sanctuary. It starts with a wonderful prayer and a connecting moment, and then the first thing they do is go to lunch and share a meal.”
For Altice-Montes, coordinating Day 4 Hope is a labor of love and a family affair. Her husband, Dr. Luis Montes, served as this year’s medical liaison.
“We all look forward to seeing these families,” she said. “Everybody is hugging everybody.”
Altice-Montes said she is humbled by the support the event receives from First Sarasota, which includes many hours of volunteer time and raising more than $20,000 to provide the goods and services to the families.
“The heart that the church really has for it is so important,” she said. “It’s God speaking to all of us.”
—Kari Barlow is a freelance writer based in Pensacola.