Earlier this week I had written down completely different thoughts to share with you about “giving joyfully and putting God first.” However, my plan changed after my service experience yesterday. God has been calling me for a year and a half or so to “give joyfully” one Saturday morning a month to PUMC’s outreach mission project in Trenton at Chamber United Methodist Church. This project Threads of Hope, has become near and dear to my heart and that of my family because it is not so much a project as it is a one to one opportunity to reach out to the “least of these” that Jesus so frequently advocated for. Matthew 25:40 reminds us “anything you have done for the least of these, you did for me.” My family has been involved with many youth mission trips and projects, but this ongoing experience of “giving joyfully” to the least of these (or the “nobodies” as discussed this summer) has changed us all.
I feel that God is asking me to share this experience with you because so few of you have had the opportunity to directly experience Threads of Hope yourselves. Many of you are “giving joyfully” to the numerous other opportunities offered through PUMC such as The Cornerstone Kitchen, ASP, VBS, etc…all of which I think, many of you know a great deal about. My prayers are that after I do my best to make these wonderful and grateful people at Threads of Hope come alive for you, that you will join others from the PUMC family in this very worthwhile mission/outreach project. Minimal time is needed, but the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life is endless. Our church has been supporting this outreach through our ongoing clothing donations, school supplies donations (such as the recent very successful and much appreciated school supply collection during VBS), prayers and through the dedication of a small group of volunteers and staff members.
So much more help is needed and the Outreach Committee recently committed to fund the buying of containers to store the out of season clothing which will help us protect this very important commodity from the dampness of the church basement. They have also committed to helping pay for craft projects, academic workbooks, and food (usually snacks, but sometimes a breakfast), that we share with the attending families. So far providing these things has come from the generosity of a few volunteers, now it is guaranteed that we can continue to meet our patrons’ needs, especially the children.
From 10 am -noon on the 2nd Saturday each month, we are open as a free, take what you need, clothing closet for people of all ages, colors, faiths, and backgrounds, but really Threads is so much more. In the summer, we are a cool place for people to come and visit with one another and in the winter months we are a warm, inviting place for people to come and visit with one another. The individuals attending range in age from a few weeks old to seniors. The families include multi-generations of great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc…
We started out with about ten people coming the first few months to approximately 40 people yesterday (20 were kids and teens, 20 men and women). They come in all shapes and sizes, speaking different languages or dialects, with most speaking some form of Spanish. Unfortunately, we are lacking volunteers who share this language so communication continues to be difficult as children try to interpret for their non-English speaking adults. Our primary Spanish speaking volunteer, my daughter, is now a freshman living at college and so she has left a huge hole in our ability to even minimally communicate with our patrons.
A parental aside here, watching our daughter move from being very cautious about trying to speak using her limited Spanish to her feeling pretty confident communicating with the children and adults alike, was such a rewarding experience as a mom and dad. She loved attending each month and rearranged her job so that she could be at Threads on the second Saturday every month. The children loved having her talk to them and loved being able to help her improve her Spanish. Many laughs were shared as she did this. God was definitely working through Threads to help our daughter gain confidence and making her feel valued through her service to others. Along with many other opportunities she had for service throughout her years attending church, Threads of Hope has given her a firm foundation of “giving joyfully” of her time and talents.
At Threads yesterday, infants who first came in mothers’ arms are now walking, talking, and participating in craft activities we provide. They are eating the markers and trying to ingest the wiggly eyes. Their fingers, faces, and clothing are colorfully decorated in cheery magic marker. Half-eaten Halloween lollipops, donuts, and fruit are spread across the low tables, craft supplies are creatively being put to use, and little toddlers wander around spending their time taking books and toys in and out of boxes. Yesterday, they were proudly filling donated plastic pumpkins with whatever they could find- shoes, candy, toys, and markers. Older siblings, aunts and uncles who are hardly older than the toddlers, assist the little ones- both those who are family and those they don’t know. Happy chattering in a language I can’t understand is heard not only at the children’s table, but from the adults as well.
What truly amazes me month after month is how the adults go through the clothing with specific needs in mind- those of their family and those of their friends. Special requests are made such as, Do you have diapers? We didn’t. Do you have anything for infants? We didn’t this month. Phones are used to text or call friends to let them know about special months such as school supplies, Halloween costumes, change of season clothing, breakfast etc…A few minutes later and more people have arrived to shop.
Yesterday, was one of those special days as even the tweens were successfully able to find costumes that they can wear for Halloween. Eyes lit up and excited voices abounded as some couldn’t wait to tell me what they had found. “I’m going to be The Hulk,” exclaimed one pre-teen boy. One of our shy regular fourth grade girls finally got a chance to look at the costumes after caring for her younger cousins and she was so pleased to find a pretty Tinker Bell costume in her size that she would be able to wear- excitedly she went to show her grandmother whose face lit up for her excited granddaughter.
School supply Saturday in September was another memorable month. This year in August we had a few children ask us if we were going to have school supplies- they were thrilled to hear that we would have them in September. The smiling thank-yous of the grateful children as they were able to pick out new backpacks, check out the supplies, and supplement the generous ones, already placed within them by the VBS kids, will stick with me for a long time. These children, although I believe are living with many material needs unmet, thoughtfully pick out items to share with absent siblings and friends. Never have we seen our patrons greedily taking extras of anything; the children “joyfully give” to each other and to the adults each month. I get to hear stories from the children such as, “It is my aunt’s birthday, I want to get her something.”
“My brother’s backpack’s zipper is broken, may I take one for him?”
“Look, I found this for my nephew. I’m an uncle. He’s 1 year old and starting to walk around.”
“Do you have any more of those math books like you had last month? I want to give one to my friend.”
We also hear “joyful giving” stories among the adults as well. We have one patron who comes every month to find items for his outreach within the community. He carefully goes through the piles one at a time looking for items that will meet the needs he recognizes within his flock. He has also become one of our regular volunteers as he helps organize clothing, moves big bags of clothing for us, disposes of garbage, and helps the patrons. His commitment to Threads is worthy of praise. Adults hand items to their peers, even when they don’t know the person when they find something that meets the needs of the other person.
So if you want to witness God’s abiding love in others, if you wish to “give joyfully” through service as well as or instead of financially (some of us don’t have the funds), or if you are looking for a way for your family to put God first together (all ages are welcome and can be put to work:-), please consider coming to Threads of Hope on the second Saturday of each month. I believe, that you will, as I do, “receive joyfully” as much if not more than you give! If Saturdays aren’t good for you, please consider service through one of PUMC’s other very worthwhile programs.