BELLEFONTE — Jared Nevel, hair nearly down to his eyes, had one last thing to do Sunday before the first day of school.
The 9-year-old Howard boy sat quietly in an improvised barber chair inside Faith United Methodist Church in Bellefonte.
When hair dresser Darlene Witmer asked what he was looking forward to most about starting fourth grade Tuesday, Jared thought for a moment, and said “seeing my friends.”
“He means his girlfriends,” Jared’s father, Rich Nevel, of Howard, interrupted, drawing a shout and a laugh from his son.
The family was one of many who crowded Sunday evening to the church’s fourth annual blessing of the backpacks ceremony and community picnic.
“We just want to make sure all of the kids are provided for,” said Andy Morgan, pastor at the church.
On Sunday, more than a hundred children received backpacks filled with paper, pencils, rulers and dictionaries — and all the other back-to-school essentials.
As he watched children and their families line up for the picnic, Morgan estimated that turnout doubled from last year.
Church officials and other volunteers have worked the past year to greatly expand the program as its popularity grows.
For the first time, families could take advantage of free haircuts, and dental health screenings for children.
“We realize not everyone can afford these things,” Morgan said. “It’s just an opportunity to make sure the kids are provided for. People love getting behind this.”
The new additions were popular to say the least — the line for haircuts wrapped down a long hall inside the church.
“We thought because it was the first year we might not have as many, but this is great,” Witmer said as she trimmed Jared’s hair. “I just want everybody to go back to school just looking perfect.”
Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter@Carrollreporter.