First UMC, Oviedo, loves active military and veterans all year round. For the 2014 holiday season, volunteers made a special effort to show support by sending 1,053 faux fur-trimmed Christmas stockings made of camouflage cloth to military bases in Afghanistan and Kuwait.
Church member Liz Whitley helps keep the ministry’s various projects in play. From Veterans Day to Memorial Day and on ordinary days in between, volunteers from the church reach out to armed service personnel – active and retired -- to make sure they know someone cares.
This year, the team raised $5,600 for the Christmas stocking outreach. The postage costs were $3,000, and another $1,000 went toward materials to make the stockings and stuff them. Additional goodies were donated.
Although the supplies and means needed to fulfill the volunteer team’s goals ebb and flow, Whitley has seen what she calls “God stories” and does not worry about getting needed items and cash donations.
In November, for example, Whitley noticed that the big blue tub for donations at the church was not filling up quickly enough to allow time for sorting, stuffing and shipping the stockings before Christmas. Shortly after, though, she arrived at the church to find donations overflowing, including four cases of boxes with such items as magazines; decks of cards; toiletry items like toothbrushes and paste, lip balm, razors and deodorants; candy, cookies, granola bars, Slim Jims snacks and water flavors.
Volunteers got right to work sorting the items and the stockings in a special mission room at church.
Some of the boxes of stockings were mailed Nov. 24. Then, the following Sunday, families at the church stuffed more stockings for shipping and included a note of appreciation for military service.
“Our church supports this mission 100 percent,” said Whitley, who coordinates a team of 40 to 50 volunteers. The ranks swell for special projects.
“We’ve been doing this for seven years and it’s the best thing ever," Whitley said. "It’s a God thing.”
The recipients’ names come from various sources but mostly people in the church and their friends, families and neighbors. Recipients represent all sectors of the armed forces, including some reserve units. As military personnel return from duty, new names take their places.
In addition to the holiday outreach, the Oviedo volunteers have for the last three years hosted the community on Memorial Day for a tribute to Florida’s Fallen, an event honoring soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. People sign a guest book and are invited to send cards to military personnel.
The ministry team also has sent cookies to the military for the Fourth of July and held an appreciation lunch, complete with a band, for around 200 honorees on Veterans Day, Whitley said.
When the volunteers are not busy sending much-needed items to their military “pen pals,” they also work on a sewing project that has been on their good works list for 10 years. On Mondays, the sew team works on creating garments designed to accommodate wounded veterans. Called “Sew Much Comfort,” the items include pants and shorts with seams lined with Velcro for easy access. For a closer look at this outreach, visit www.umc.org/news-and-media/umtv-clothes-comfort-veterans.
-- Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.