By Paula Schlueter Ross
Even though Concordia Publishing House’s “Operation F.U.N.” (For a United Neighborhood) didn’t start until 3 p.m. on Aug. 6, residents of the publisher’s South St. Louis neighborhood started lining up for the party before 1:30.
The event “is something that’s looked forward to every year in the neighborhood,” according to CPH spokeswoman Elizabeth Pittman. And, she added, everyone — employees and guests alike — seems to have a good time.
At this year’s party — the publisher’s 19th — CPH employees gave away some 800 backpacks filled with school supplies and they treated local families to free hot dogs, pretzels, bananas, water, popsicles and take-home crafts. There was a sprinkler to help kids cool off on this steamy day, and local officers were giving rides in a police vehicle.
Hyseen, a 7-year-old who was looking forward to first grade, said he liked his new backpack “because it’s blue, and my favorite color is blue.”
Janyia, 8, said she’s excited about entering third grade “because we color and do writing.” CPH’s Operation F.U.N., she added, “is very cool … with all the food and toys.”
The children’s grandmother, Elaine Nolan, brought six of her grandkids, ages 3 to 11, to the CPH party — her first. Nolan told Reporter she thought the giveaways were a “real good idea” because buying school supplies is a hardship for some local families. Now the children are “all set for school and ready to go,” she said, adding, “I’ll sure be back” next year.
CPH employees provided the supplies — following St. Louis city school lists — and CPH purchased the backpacks. Included in each — from pre-kindergarten through grade 8 — was an age-appropriate CPH Bible-story book. Adults received a copy of Portals of Prayer in either English or Spanish.
Manning one of the food tables was Steve Harris, CPH’s executive director of Innovation Technologies, who has volunteered at all 19 Operation F.U.N. events.
“I think it’s just a wonderful opportunity for us to interact with our neighbors … it’s a great way to connect,” Harris told Reporter. “And the people — the kids … and the moms and dads are so appreciative. I think it really fills a need.”
Susan Turner, assistant to CPH President and CEO Dr. Bruce G. Kintz, described the annual party — her 18th — as ” a great opportunity” for CPH’s neighbors “to come meet us, know who we are, what we represent. And if we can share the love of God with these children through our resources and our actions, there’s the bonus.”
Newcomer Barbara Shippy of CPH’s Commerce department, a second-year volunteer, said, “It’s always a blessing to get to be a part of this.” Shippy recalled a woman who said she had brought her son years earlier and now she was there with her grandkids.
“So generations have been here,” added Shippy, “which is really neat to see.”