As Hailey and Chelsey Alder ran out the back door of the Shepherd's Staff center in Westminster, they carried new backpacks filled with school supplies.
Alongside their mother, Jaymi Bryant, 23, of Union Bridge, the girls entered a large shed and searched through hundreds of pieces of clothing for the four outfits each child could take home for free.
Hailey, who is almost 6, and Chelsey, 5, are getting ready to start first grade and kindergarten, respectively, at Elmer A. Wolfe Elementary in Union Bridge.
The girls were among about 750 county students - from preschool to high school - who received shoes, backpacks, supplies and slightly used clothes from the Shepherd's Staff.
An ecumenical ministry to the needy, the Shepherd's Staff uses its annual Back-To-School Program to help parents who do not have the money or the ability to purchase clothing and school supplies for their children.
"There's something about children going back to school. They need to have the feeling that they are like everyone else. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a family can't afford things, so we fill that unmet need," said Kathy Brown, director of the Shepherd's Staff
This was Cristi Schmehling's first trip to the ministry's Carroll Street location for school supplies.
Her husband died in April and left her to tend to their three children.
On Wednesday, Schmehling, 26, of Manchester and her daughter Mariah Berry, 8, a third-grader at Hampstead Elementary, sifted through the clothing, holding up various outfits to check their sizes and see how they looked.
Mariah chose two pairs of shorts, two tank tops and a white-and-red "I [love] New York" T-shirt.
"It's like a whole bunch of shows," said Mariah, describing her memory of New York. Her father had taken her on a trip there. "At nighttime, there's lights everywhere, and it's pretty."
As the children came through the shed and looked around at the clothing, Shepherd's Staff employee Velma Green talked to them.
"I like being supportive," Green said. "I enjoy people, and I get an opportunity to see them progress from one stage to another."
In the past, Deeanne Hitchcock received assistance from the Shepherd's Staff employees. This time, she was able to reciprocate.
On Wednesday, she delivered a large plastic bin and several bags full of clothes to Green.
"She [Green] helped me out a lot, so in return I'm helping her out," said Hitchcock, 35, of Westminster. "It's wonderful; you can't get a better project. Very compassionate people work here. Whatever you need, they go above and beyond to help."
But Brown, the Shepherd's Staff director, said that much of the help is from county businesses, groups and individual citizens.
To provide the hundreds of students with clothing, shoes and school supplies, Shepherd's Staff receives donations of money and supplies, while also setting up drop-off sites for school supplies at several local businesses.
"We saw the need grow from the first moment someone asked for a pencil 10 years ago," Brown said.
This year was the first in which the Westminster Senior and Community Center contributed school supplies, said Paul Garver, the center manager.
During one month, the center collected seven trash bags full of notebooks, paper, backpacks, pencils, pens, crayons, markers and glue.
"There are always those who are less fortunate than ourselves. This is a good way to help people out," Garver said.
Bryant, Hailey and Chelsey's mother, said she would have done her best to ready her girls for school.
"I won't need to worry about where the school supplies or clothes are coming from, or anyone making fun of them because of the stuff they have," Bryant said.