A pastor came to a new appointment and wisely spent the first year intentionally listening, watching and learning about the congregation. “We’re very missional,” the pastor was told. “We especially like to do things for the kids at the elementary school in the neighborhood.”
Sure enough, the church held their annual school supply drive at the end of the summer. An accounting was made of each item, and the tally was printed in the church newsletter. A record number of crayons, markers, glue bottles and spiral notebooks were donated.
In January, a coat drive was held. Few members of the congregation had children at home, so not many hand-me-downs were collected. But the members were happy to purchase new coats. The weather was cold, and they did not want any child to suffer because they could not afford a coat.
The pastor had never visited the elementary school, so she offered to deliver the coats herself. Many bags of new coats were loaded in the back of her truck, and she went to meet the school counselor. The counselor greeted her enthusiastically. “Thank you so much! Your church always does so much for our children. I can’t thank you enough!” She took the pastor down the hall to the room where they stored extra clothing items. When she opened the door, the pastor could not believe her eyes: there must have been 100 coats already on racks in the room.
“Do you need more coats?” she asked. The counselor hesitated, “Well, we don’t want you to think we don’t appreciate what you do,” she said. “I’m sure we can find room for more coats.” “Will you give away all of these coats this year?” the pastor asked. “Honestly…no.” was the response. “What about the school supplies we bring every year?” the pastor asked. “Do you really need those?” “Well, most of our kids receive everything on their school supply list from one agency that does a big event for kids in our school district,” the counselor said. “What we really need is Kleenex, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes. We always run out of those by this time of year, when we really need them. We try to keep the kids and teachers healthy, so they don’t have to miss school.”
The next year, the church did not do a coat drive. They also did not do an Angel Tree, because they learned that a local mission agency did a Christmas store for families at this school. Instead, they adopted one grade – first grade – at Christmas. They bought boxes of brand new picture books at the Scholastic Warehouse semi-annual sale. And they hosted a gift exchange.
The children exchanged names with other “secret pals” in their class. Then they visited a room where they could select one book that they thought their secret pal would like. Church members talked them through the choices and asked them questions about what they thought their friend would like. The children then visited a wrapping station, where a church member helped them choose wrapping paper and helped them wrap the gift. The gifts were returned to the classroom, to be opened at the party later that day.
One could argue that this party hit on 8-10 developmental assets for the kids involved. A significant list of benefits could be named for the adults who participated, as well. That year, a coat drive and angel tree (relief, with no relational contact with the children) was transformed to an event where children were given the opportunity to choose and prepare a gift to give to their friends (empowerment, with high relational contact with the children). The cost to the church was significantly less, yet the benefits to the children (and the church) were arguably higher.
What needs exist in our community? Do we know the answer to this question? Or do we think we know the answer to this question? Who do we need to talk to and what questions do we need to ask to be sure our assumptions are correct?
Prayer Focus: Pray for teachers who often spend their own money to provide supplies that are lacking in our schools.