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Gideon’s Army Full of Love and Surprises

Rev. Edward Mitchell tells the kids “you can be anything you want to be” at the “Tools For School” event at Brown Robertson Park last Saturday.

by Cheryl Hodges

The kick off to last Saturday’s “Tools for School” event held at Brown Robertson Park was rousing and uplifting and had lots of kids rallying around Reverend Edward Mitchell, a pastor from Moneta who led the prayer, and the event’s organizer, Alex Hash, who heads up “Gideon’s Army Community Services.”

Gideon’s Army is the group Hash founded just under a year ago and though it is relatively new on the scene, is already impacting people for the better, thanks to Hash’s unwavering determination to make a difference, and a lot of volunteers who share his vision. Just before sending the kids off to enjoy the various activities stationed around the park, Hash hollered “Ready! Aim! Achieve!”—and with that the kids rushed off to check out the attractions.

Like other events organized by Hash and his volunteers, they had several goals in mind for Tools for School. One is to be of practical help to the community … in this case, supplying kids with backpacks and other needed school supplies. The group’s bigger picture goal is to involve more people in helping each other, and experiencing the satisfaction that comes with helping somebody else out, even in a small way. Hash calls it “changing the world one neighborhood at a time.”

Hash himself is the personification of this effort. He was laid off from a job and during the time he spent looking for work, he realized that he needed to get the focus off of himself and on others if he was going to be content, prompting him to organize “Gideon’s Army.”

If onlookers didn’t know that Gideon’s Army and a school supply distribution were behind the festivities, they would have thought that it was a mini Festival, complete with bouncy houses, hotdogs, drinks, fun music, face painting, basketball, candy apples, and even the Roanoke City Police’s Mobile Command Unit  (MCU) on hand for kids to visit and climb all over. Community Resource Officer W.D. Wood explained that the unit is a complete command center that is often brought in when there is a crisis, and also makes “appearances” at public events. The kids just enjoyed exploring every nook and cranny.

Twanna Banks brought her children and said that the event “really gives the kids something fun to do,” adding she thought it offered so much more “compared to other types of events” that were giving away school supplies. Kimberly Cook, who was baby-sitting her neighbor’s three little girls, said “this was a really nice turnout.”

Hash estimated that Gideon’s Army distributed over 300 book bags with supplies inside them.  He said, “We still had several families that were not able to get any supplies because we ran out.” They directed those families to other places they can receive help. Most of the attendees were neighborhood kids but Hash said there were families from all over the area who came.

 Hash added, “The kids were thrilled when they realized we were giving book bags because we only advertised school supplies.  We had 10 different styles and tried to make sure that girls got the pretty ones and the boys the more dark colors.”

One thing Alex Hash is never in a shortage of is “thank you’s” His appreciation in seeing his community come together is unending.   He said in an email to his “army,” “I am sure you each saw the fulfillment on the faces of all the children in attendance … Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

He wasn’t the only thankful one; Hash related that “many parents came up to me and expressed such gratitude for the book bags.  One mother was in tears because she had four kids, and was not sure how she was going to purchase book bags for all of them.”

Gideon’s Army next volunteer opportunity is planned for September 20th.  They will be collecting canned goods and other foods to partner with Southwest VA Food Bank for their “Stamp Out Hunger Month;” the group will also be volunteering at the Food Bank that day. For more information or to volunteer call 540-632-1251 or email [email protected]

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