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St. Paul’s, Tallahassee, wins sustainability award

St. Paul’s, Tallahassee, wins sustainability award

Missions and Outreach

The combination of old T-shirts, fresh and free organic produce and weekly fellowship is a winner in more ways than one for St. Paul’s UMC in Tallahassee. Recently, the church’s Creation Care T-shirt bag ministry  won a prestigious statewide 2019 ReThink Energy Innovator Award for its work.

ReThink Energy is a statewide non-profit organization that promotes renewable energy and sustainability. The award recognizes achievements in engaging, educating and empowering people to create a healthier, sustainable environment.

Other groups nominated for the 2019 award included a furniture bank and a citizen’s climate lobby, but St. Paul’s T-shirt ministry was the winner. That’s perhaps in part because it touches many different lives in many different ways.
A T-shirt bag on display and the 2019 Annual Conference in June.
Cara Fleischer, the church’s Creation Care leader, said the ministry started about four years ago after volunteers working at the local food bank, Manna on Meridian, noticed that recipients of the church garden’s organic vegetables had only plastic grocery bags to carry food home.

“Our beautiful produce was being loaded into these plastic bags when we could figure out a way to provide sustainable, re-usable bags,” Fleischer said.

Church members joined forces with Sustainable Tallahassee’s Rags2Bags to make T-shirt grocery bags using a no-sew construction. They cut the shirt sleeves to create straps and cutting strips in the hems to then tie into knots.

The 20 to 40 people visiting the food bank each week drove the need to replace one-use plastic with T-shirt bags. Fleischer said it’s a great way to get different people involved in the ministry because anyone can make a bag, including kids.

Anne Wilde is the leader of the church’s T-shirt ministry, and she organized five to ten “Green Team” volunteers to meet weekly.

They make up to 150 bags a month to give to food bank users, who range from college students to the elderly. The bags include an information card about sustainability that encourages users to bring the reusable bags back when shopping to reduce single-use plastic.

The bags are strong and stretchy, yet soft for tender produce, and they are washable.

Volunteers from St. Paul shared the technique of making reusable bags at the Creation Care Task Force booth during the Florida Annual Conference in June. They also demonstrated the work earlier this year at Centenary UMW meeting in Quincy.

The T-shirt project has brought many people together, from the all-ages volunteers who make them, to the people who donate old T-shirts, to the people who receive them and keep on using them instead of plastic. It has been a win/win situation, and winning the award was great as well.

The real reward is sharing the message of being good stewards of God’s earth, Fleischer said.  The task force is called to be good shepherds of God’s earth to preserve creation while bringing people closer to Jesus.

For more information on how this ministry works, or to start one in your local church or community, the work of the FLUMC Creation Care Task Force is a good place to start.

—Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta