Pasco church carnival more than just fun and games

Pastor Gary Cooper and members of College View Baptist Church in Pasco were looking for ways to jump-start their community outreach efforts when the idea of a carnival was floated.

However, Cooper and his congregation didn’t want to put on a typical carnival.

“I really wanted the church to make an impact on its community,” Cooper said.

So, church volunteers decided to blend a traditional carnival — full of games, food and bouncy castles — with community giveaways aimed at helping the less fortunate.

More than 1,000 people attended last year’s event, where backpacks, school supplies and coats were handed out to hundreds.

On Saturday, about 120 volunteers from the region showed up at the church campus on West Agate Street for the second annual carnival. About 600 backpacks, as well as school supplies, food and other items, were given to those in need.

A dental clinic handed out free samples, and Amerigroup was on hand to pass out health care information.

The carnival was primarily sponsored by the church, which ponied up about $12,000, and area businesses pitched in with donations.

Church officials said between 1,200 and 1,500 people attended the carnival, which included live music and a dance performance.

“A lot of these kids don’t have the opportunity to go out and do this every day,” said Ozzie Garza, a church member from Pasco who helped set up the event. “Just to see the look on their faces is enough.”

Before the carnival, church members put together gift baskets for teachers at nearby Robert Frost Elementary School.

Church members told the Herald that several people in the College View congregation work in education, and that giving back to the teachers, especially after the recent Pasco School District strike, was important.

Kristi Williams, a music teacher at Robert Frost, has spent 30 years with the Pasco School District. She was overwhelmed by the church’s generosity and grateful to see many students from Robert Frost getting school supplies at the carnival.

“(The church) is just wonderful,” Williams said. “It just means so much to teachers to have these gift baskets and have items you can use in the classroom all year.”

Part of the reason the carnival was so important this year, Cooper said, was to help bring the Pasco community together after the February police shooting of a Mexican orchard worker who was killed a short distance from Saturday’s event.

“There’s tension in the community,” Cooper said. “What we are trying to do is reach out to those in the community and give a voice to those who need a voice.”

Lazaro Martinez is the pastor at Gerizim, a Hispanic church that shares a campus with College View.

Martinez’s 80-member congregation is mostly from the neighborhoods around where the carnival was held, he said.

The pastor said that events such as the carnival show the Hispanic community that organizations and people in the Tri-Cities are willing to help.

“There is a need,” Martinez said. “We need more events like this so they understand there is a place of refuge, a place to come for services.”

Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson