Friendly Center to host inaugural boxcar eventWritten by Casey Harper | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Children giggle and shout as they pump their feet against the ground. In pairs, they hold brightly decorated cardboard “cars” around their waists and jostle down the track. Parents laugh as the children bump, skip and tumble their way to the finish line.
Basically, eventgoers can expect a great time at The Friendly Center’s inaugural Boxcar Grand Prix on June 23, said Debrah Harleston, office manager at The Friendly Center.
“We wanted to do something different, something innovative,” she said. “We try to think out of the box. We try to think of things that will bring families together.”
Harleston expects about 100 people to attend its boxcar event.
Local businesses and families can sponsor the young racers to cover their cardboard and entry fees. Winners of different heats as well as the best-designed boxcars will receive prizes.
“It’s not about winning the race,” Harleston said. “It’s about taking a piece of cardboard and working as a team to have a finished product.”
Music, food and activities such as cake walks and face painting will round out the afternoon of racing. Entry is free, but a meal ticket costs $10.
“This is something fun for the entire family,” Harleston said.
The Friendly Center has served North Toledo since 1923. Their services include a basketball camp, Cub Scouts, outreach to seniors as well as health, music and financial education for the community.
“It’s fulfilling, it’s humbling and it’s an awakening because a lot of us who are working here have been in situations such as our neighbors,” Harleston said. “The face of our neighbor looks like us. That is the person in need, whether it’s hygiene products or food or eye care. Those people that come in here look like you and I.”
Just after Harleston began working for The Friendly Center she began to see its impact. An electrical repairman came in to do a job that cost $500, but was so moved by their service he didn’t charge anything.
“He came in and said, ‘Wow, my daughter came to The Friendly Center for about eight years when she was young. It was a really tough time in her life,’” Harleston said. “He walked around and came back and took care of the issue we originally called him for at no charge because he said, ‘My services can’t compare to what you did for my daughter. My daughter is doing well now,’ and he said it was because she had a cushion. It’s an experience that I will never forget.”
Owned by the United Methodist Church, The Friendly Center also provides basic needs such as food and toiletries to people struggling to get back on their feet in the community.
“When our neighbors decide they want to experience different opportunities in their life, this is the first place we want them to come,” said Executive Director Amelia Gibbon.
Harleston said someone will come in weekly to thank The Friendly Center for its help. These people often give back to the organization.
“A woman comes up to the center and says, ‘Could you guys use about 25 bags of food?’” Harleston said.
“She said, ‘Four months ago, I was in here getting food as part of your emergency food program. Now me and my husband are working and going to school and our children have a stable place to go with your afterschool program.’”
The Friendly Center hopes the boxcar fundraiser will help its staff continue to serve the community they love.
“It’s heart wrenching,” Harleston said. “I worked in corporate America for 25 years. I’m not a softy, but something tears at your heartstrings every day. It is sad that you have to push for dollars. You have to push for money every day.”
The Boxcar Grand Prix is 1-4 p.m. June 23 at the Swan Creek Metropark, 4659 Airport Hwy.