WALKER — Latrell McCain, a single mother of two children, said she is struggling financially and wasn’t sure how she was going to buy her children school uniforms this year.
On Friday, McCain’s prayers were answered, she said.
“This is a blessing,” McCain said as she perused though piles of free, gently used uniforms during the 10th annual From Our Uniform to Yours school uniform distribution program held by the Walker Police Department at Walker Baptist Church’s Fellowship Hall.
More than 500 people waited in the heat — some for hours — to select free uniforms for their children. All of them left with something, said Capt. John Sharp, of the Walker Police Department.
It took volunteers nearly six hours to distribute all of the uniforms.
Michelle Beard arrived two hours early to the uniform drive and walked away with uniforms for her son Seth Gravious, 15. Beard also donated two pairs of uniform pants her son had outgrown in hopes of helping another family in need.
Sharp said the need for assistance was up this year. More families had called in the weeks prior to the event asking for help, and about 550 uniforms were distributed Friday, far more than expected, he said. The number is up from about 400 last year and about 375 in 2012.
“There is a lot of need in the parish,” Sharp said. “There are lots of unemployed folks.”
“It’s horrible, especially this year,” said volunteer Mirna Ebarb, as she watched shifts of people enter the fellowship hall to shop, and at the long line of people waiting outside. “It’s very sad.”
Volunteers spent hundreds of hours thoroughly checking, sorting and labeling the uniforms.
The school uniform distribution program was the brainchild of former Chief of Police Hunter Grimes, who saw the need in the community years ago.
Before leaving his post in Walker to take on responsibilities at Louisiana State Police, Grimes asked Sharp to continue the program, which has helped thousands of Livingston Parish residents.
The department — which was recognized by the National Association of Chiefs of Police for having the best social media site for a law enforcement agency of its size — used Facebook as its main tool to spread the word about the uniform drive, Sharp said. Although the city has 6,200 residents, it has more than 11,000 Facebook followers, some as far away as Australia.
One of those followers, a woman from Australia, sent a money order to help pay for uniforms.
The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, began sending donations three years ago and has now enlisted help from her Australian friends, Sharp said.
In addition to collecting gently used uniforms, the department raised about $1,000 in cash and gift card donations to purchase additional uniforms, Sharp said. About $300 came from school students who paid $1 for a free dress day.
With the money Beard saved from not having to purchase new uniforms, she can now pay school fees.
Randy Baker, a mother of three, said she will use the money she saved on uniforms to buy school shoes for her children.
“It was a good feeling to be able to help and know that you’re making a difference, but it’s a bad feeling to know that so many people in your community need help,” Sharp said.
To learn about the Walker Police Department, visit www.facebook.com/Walker.Police.