The line forms early at 7 a.m., wrapping around the red brick building. Kids press their noses against the picture windowpanes to spot their next treasure. A boy named Parker peers up through his blue-rimmed glasses at Lisa Clark, the director of Frostburg State University’s ASTAR (Appalachian Service Through Action and Resources) AmeriCorps program, as she opens the front door at 9 a.m.
“I’m Parker, and I’m here first!” he yells to her, causing Clark to chuckle, as she ushers him inside. He immediately grabs an action figure with a feverish preschool grip. She helps him find a Harry Potter picture book, then a box where he perches to read it.
The annual event is ASTAR’s Community Outreach Project. In its 25th year, it is held each spring at City Place in Frostburg, a small rural community in the Northern subregion of Appalachia.
“The public is invited and can choose as much as they want from a variety of books and other items at no cost,” Clark said. “It attracts nearly 450 people each year.”
She added, “Teachers come to get books for their classrooms, along with church parishioners, senior citizens, children, college students, business owners, and retired principals and veterans.”
The community is very involved. Christian Appalachian Project’s (CAP) Operation Sharing Program partners with ASTAR to meet needs in the community. The local Lions Club offers storage space for the donated items CAP brings, and the city donates City Place for the event. The Maryland Governor's Office of Service and Volunteerism, and AmeriCorps send 25-30 volunteers who make this community event a success.
Clark has been with the program since its inception 28 years ago. “We never knew what we were going to get then - we’d unload the tractor trailer by hand,” Clark said. “But the city helps us now, and we request children’s books for after school programs and the university’s education department, which helps up-and-coming teachers build their libraries.”
Clark’s team gets donations to those who need it most. Periodic table of element magnet sets were sent to local STEM programs. Food went to pantries on campus and in the community. The nursing program received boxes of scrubs, and any clothes leftover from the event headed to an outreach program for domestic violence. Some extra books go to Title 1 schools for students to take home to practice reading, while others are saved for future events.
ASTAR’s service programs help improve the literacy of children, enhance the health care and living conditions of children and the elderly, help at-risk youth by offering after-school programs, improve shelter and support services for low-income families and preserve the environment for Maryland communities. Visit https://www.frostburg.edu/student-community-involvement/civic-engagement/ASTAR-AmeriCorp.
Christian Appalachian Project’s Operation Sharing Program partners with over 1,300 nonprofit organizations, community-based agencies, churches, and schools across all 13 Appalachian states, as well as Arkansas and Missouri, to collect and deliver donated goods throughout Appalachia. In nearly 40 years, Operation Sharing has delivered more than $2 billion worth of donated materials to more than 1.5 million people. For more information visit christianapp.org/operation-sharing.
Story by Shannon Holbrook.