OTTUMWA — The carnival atmosphere at First Pentecostal Assembly of God Church Saturday morning drew many families looking for both a fun activity and some help going back to school.

This is the fourth year the church has held a backpack giveaway for local elementary school students, but there's much more to it than that.

"We want to reach the next generation, we want to teach and help kids be successful," children's pastor Lisa Mullikin explained. "We get feedback like that, that we're remembered as the church that gives out backpacks to help kids."

The backpacks include several of the necessary school supplies the kids will need when they go back to school in just a few weeks.

Pony rides, inflatables, face painting, train rides and clowns were enjoyed by all, as children were transformed into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the day or felt like cowboys as they rode a horse for the first time. The Firehouse Kids also gave a presentation, and Christian music played throughout the property.

"We don't do much together, I work all the time," Barbara Stone said, so the special activities were a great time for her four children. It was also a blessing, she said, to have the church do so much for people they might not even know.

"It's going to help a lot. A little help goes a long way," Stone said.

There were also many groups and organizations on hand to share back-to-school information with both parents and children. An I-Smile dental screening was available, and many kids made their own smoothies on the tricked-out stationary bike.

The entire event was free, including snacks and beverages, Mullikin said, because of the generosity and concern of the church's congregation.

"Everything is free, so we want the children to have fun and have a good time, hear the Gospel and then get a backpack," she said. "It's an outreach from our whole church. Just because of our economic turn ... it's just helping people get their kids back in school. When you add that up in a family that has multiple children, we're helping them save quite a bit."

— Follow Laura Carrell on Twitter @CourierLauraC

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