Children are the most tragic victims of homelessness. They often suffer the indignities of living out of a car or in temporary housing – longing for some normalcy. The Los Angeles Mission reaches out to the younger homeless population with its End of Summer Block Party, designed as a way for kids to play, have fun, win prizes and forget about their circumstances – if for only a day.

The End of Summer Block party was held Saturday on the main street of Skid Row, Fifth Street, where decorations, tents and inflatable play areas were set up. Besides the giant slide, there was a dunk tank, face painting, crafts, games and of course backpacks full of school supplies.

“There were smiles everywhere,” said Herb Smith, President of the Los Angeles Mission. “This was a great day, to see the kids and their parents having fun. Our volunteers really enjoy the Block Party because of the kids.” Smith continued, “Children are very important to us here at the Mission. We believe that taking advantage of educational opportunities will help break the cycle of poverty. We believe it is vital to give these kids every opportunity for educational achievement.”

The Los Angeles Mission hosted the party, just in time to equip children with new backpacks and most of the school supplies children need to start fall classes. Children from age 4 to 17 got a backpack. More than 1,000 backpacks and the requisite school supplies including pencils, notebooks, crayons, erasers, folders and arts & craft items were donated.

Volunteer celebrities – such as Melissa Joan Hart, Tom Schanley and Shohreh Aghdashloo – worked to make sure everyone had a good time, and helped In-N-Out Burger, King Taco and the Los Angeles Mission kitchen crew serve a picnic to the Block party participants and their families. But it wasn’t the food that took center stage for the kids, it was getting butterflies painted on their cheeks or hitting the bulls-eye and watching someone fall into the dunk tank or sliding down the giant slide.

Several “ambassadors” from Kids With A Cause, a group of entertainment industry youth, assisted in game booths and the dunk tank.

Fifth Street was closed between Wall and San Pedro starting early Saturday morning so the various inflatables, craft tents and food service areas could be set up. Families started lining up early so they could have plenty of time for food and fun before getting their school materials and backpacks.

“The recession has been hitting our friends and neighbors hard,” said Smith. “We have seen an increasing number of people coming in for help over the past few months. We are serving more meals, and more people are looking for a place to sleep. And our donations are down as well, which makes it doubly important that we are keep costs down and maximize opportunities for people to give to support the work we do.”

Representatives from the Los Angeles Christian Health Centers, along with nursing students from Azusa Pacific University, did health screenings. Children had their weight and height checked, body mass index calculated, and received a dental screening. California State University Long Beach sent students and faculty to conducted speech and hearing evaluations of the children who attended.

CNB handed out books, and provided a unique read-aloud experience for the kids who attended.

“U.S. Bank is proud to once again assist in the sponsorship of the Los Angeles Mission’s End of Summer Block Party,” said Bill Cave, U.S. Bank Market President. “As one of California’s strongest banks, our strengths have never been more aligned with the needs of our clients and our communities. This event is the ideal program to truly have an impact on our local youth and to hopefully help shape the lives of our future leaders in our community.”

“The End of Summer Block Party is a wonderful opportunity for City National Bank to partner with the Los Angeles Mission to put smiles on children’s faces,” said Bonnie Tseng, Assistant VP, event volunteer organizer, City National Bank. “We believe that through literacy, every child can find ‘the Way Up.’”

For more than 70 years, the Los Angeles Mission has served homeless and hurting men and women of downtown Los Angeles, providing emergency services such as shelter, food and clothing. In addition, the Los Angeles Mission also offers long-term residential rehabilitation programs, including education, job training, transitional housing and counseling.

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