Back to school brings blessings for givers and receivers
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)
As any parent or child knows, back-to-school days are a time for new things: new teachers, new classrooms, new challenges and new clothes and shoes.
The last two items on that list can cost more than many parents can afford, so some Florida UMCs have stepped in to help. Here are some stories about congregations getting out of the pews and into the streets.
|Members of the Jumpers for Joy sewing group make and mend uniforms for schoolchildren in need as a ministry of Harris Chapel UMC.|
HARRIS CHAPEL UMC
They call themselves “Jumpers for Joy.”
Every Thursday morning since February, a group of women meets at the church in Oakland Park to sew uniforms for neighboring schoolchildren. Since February, they have gathered together to cut and sew jumpers, which are worn with white shirts. They also make unisex shorts.
Pastor Juana Jordan said many children in the community attend Rock Island Elementary, a public school where 80 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. Many cannot afford to buy uniforms, so this outreach of the church is much needed.
In addition to sewing new uniforms, the group also mends torn or outgrown uniforms all through the year.
“We all just really, really enjoy doing this,” said Carolyn Herring, a Jumpers volunteer and longtime church member. “Sometimes we take them home to finish them.”
This mission is linked to the church’s overall clothing and food ministry, which provides non-perishables to needy families in the surrounding urban neighborhood. The school helps identify the children in need.
|Carolyn Herring of Harris Chapel UMC works on a child's school uniform as part of the Jumpers for Joy ministry.|
Jordan noted that the blessings flow both ways.
“The women of our church prayed about how they could serve, and now they are trying to make a difference,” she said. “They are finding a purpose in a church and a place for their talents.”
CHRIST TO THE NATIONS UMC
In the neighborhoods around Christ to the Nations UMC in Orlando, a need for footwear seemed to outweigh the demand for backpacks and school supplies.
Rev. Jaime Faberlle said five different mothers asked him last year where they could get shoes.
“I did not have an answer,” he recalled. This year, he did.
Thanks to $1,000 donated by his congregation and a program at Payless Shoes, 50 children headed to school sporting new shoes.
Faberlle’s church of about 100 raised the money in a month and identified children from east Orlando who were in need. The church bought $20 vouchers from Payless, put each child’s name on one and invited the children’s families to meet volunteers at a local Payless store afterhours on Aug. 12.
Ten church volunteers set up a table to facilitate the shopping and measure for sizes. The shoes were such a bargain, some children got socks as well. The shopping went on until 8:30 p.m., when the last family left, shoes in hand. The receiving families had filled out registrations, so the church can keep up with them.
“Next year, we hope to provide for 100 children, double the 50 of this year,” Faberlle said.
“I’m proud of what we did as a church,” he added. “At the lowest giving time of the year, we were able to raise $1,000.”
“The reality is I don’t know how many [recipients] will come to church, but we did do this as a Christian church,” the pastor said. “It does make a difference.”
A three-hour drive away, Grace UMC in Cape Coral repeated its “Shoes of Hope” outreach, which started in 2011.
The work leading up to this year’s giveaway at Grace’s main campus began about eight months before, with volunteers shopping for the best values in shoes, according to Heather Evans, director of age-level ministries at the church.
The result? More than 450 children received brand new shoes and backpacks filled with supplies.
|Volunteers from Grace UMC, Cape Coral, washed the feet of and prayed with recipients of new shoes through the Shoes of Hope program.|
Other numbers tell more of the story: 224 children got haircuts, and 86 received vision screenings. More than 200 of the families served do not attend church, but 112 families prayed with Grace Church volunteers.
“We washed their feet, we shared Jesus with them, then put the new shoes on their feet,” Evans said. “Then there was a back-to-school party and carnival with refreshments and a bounce house.”
It took more than 200 volunteers and $8,000 in donations to make the event happen. The church reached out to neighboring families with help from the local elementary school, the local housing authority, Salvation Army and United Way. The event required pre-registration and was filled a month in advance, Evans said.
The shoes were all new from a nearby Nike outlet and various store clearances, and the congregation donated school supplies and backpacks.
“It was an awesome event,” Evans said. “The volunteers got so much out of it, too.”
The event may have started some on the road to discipleship. Evans said 10 children who had attended came to church the next day.