By Linda Bivins
The Liberty Free Methodist Church, located in Liberty, N.Y., has been turning its attention to those outside the walls of the church. One way we reached out into the community this summer was to provide fully stocked backpacks for school children.
In today’s economy, many parents are unable to afford the school supplies their children need. Due to budget constraints, the schools can no longer provide many of the supplies they did in the past. That means many children are left without the tools they need to do well in school. It can also mean they can feel embarrassed and ashamed, or decide an education isn’t important to them.
The church stepped in to provide a practical expression of God’s love to some of these children and their families. God blessed our efforts from the start.
We received a donation: the entire inventory of a Christian bookstore that had closed two years ago. We also set up a booth selling these items at the Fourth of July street fair and started raising money. More importantly, we were able to advertise what the money was going to be used for and word of this ministry began to go out.
After the fair was over, we moved the remaining items to an empty room in the church. The congregation bought much of what was left, but usually insisted on donating money above the cost of their items.
Next, Walmart agreed that if the church would buy fifty backpacks, they would donate another fifty. We had gotten a supply list from the elementary school, and Walmart’s manager asked to see the list. She chose items that the store would donate in addition to the backpacks. Staples also provided fifty dollars in gift cards that could be used toward supplies.
We placed advertisements on the local newspaper which could be cut out, filled out, and sent to the church. There were two criteria for child to receive backpacks: they must have been in grades 3-6 with a low household income. Copies of the ad were made and the congregation went out and distributed them to various places such as public libraries and post offices.
Sign-up sheets were made available to the congregation, and people began coming to church loaded down with school supplies. Once everything was on hand, a small team met one evening and stocked the backpacks. Each backpack contained all the necessary school supplies, a New Testament, a tract, and a postcard with our church contact information and times of services. We prayed over each backpack.
Each person who sent in a request was contacted by phone. Once their eligibility was established they were told when and where to pick up the backpacks. Distribution was done at the church. Transportation was provided to anyone who needed it. When they arrived at the church they were greeted by the pastor and a few other church members who made them feel welcome.
When this ministry concluded, 102 backpacks had been given away.
Children from 65 families in thirteen different communities were the recipients. Most of the parents were quick to express their gratitude, and two of the families have since come to the church. The receipts from the store inventory and donations exceeded the costs by $28.27. Clearly, God knew exactly what He was doing!