For a child buffeted by war, natural disaster or poverty, a CWS School Kit is an oasis of normalcy and hope.In addition to helping children return to school, the paper, pencils and crayons in the kits give children tools to work through their emotions and their experience.
So when Church World Service recently alerted its member communions and partners that it was short thousands of CWS School Kits to fill pending requests, it touched my heart to think of the thousands of children in need that shortfall represented.
Today, CWS has just over 5,000 CWS School Kits in stock, against pending requests for 15,000 from Romania and 3,000 from Moldova – and more requests are expected soon. Its last two big shipments were for Syria and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 2013, CWS School Kits went to children in nine countries, including the United States (seven states).
The United Church of Christ is a stalwart supporter of Church World Service, including its CWS Kits program. UCC congregations donate thousands of CWS School, Hygiene and Baby Care Kits and CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets every year.
Given the great need right now for CWS School Kits, I got to thinking how to inspire UCC congregations to make a significant contribution.
Now, I am relatively new to the UCC staff, having become Executive for Disaster Ministries in January after eight years working with Church of the Brethren Disaster Ministries. In the process of getting to know my job, I noticed a substantial balance in our material aid fund.
I don't like to have funds lying around unnecessarily, and got the idea of creating a matching grant program of up to $50,000 for congregations to use in assembling and shipping CWS School Kits. We launched the program July 7, offering congregations the opportunity to apply for $250 each on a first-come, first-served basis – up to 200 congregations total.
By July 28, just three weeks into the program, 31 congregations had applied for matching grants. They pledged a total of 1,735 CWS School Kits.
$250 is a relatively small amount of money, so it is exciting to see how much energy and imagination these matching grants are sparking. Most participating congregations are going above and beyond their $250 match in cash and/or in kind.
Among them is Union Congregational Church UCC in Holly Hill, Fla. Response to the pastor’s announcement of the project was swift and generous. The initial goal was 50 kits, but in just two weeks, congregants contributed enough funds for 100 kits.
Moreover, participating congregations are stretching their resources by taking advantage of back-to-school sales. For example, Baiting Hollow Congregational Church in Calverton, N.Y., reports that thanks to smart shopping, it is assembling 70 CWS School Kits for $3.79 each.
We are encouraging participating congregations to reach out into their communities to enlist other congregations, area businesses, neighbors, coworkers and friends in the project, and they are doing just that.
For example, the United Church of Mapleton, Minn., placed a story in the town’s weekly newspaper, put up signs at the bank and grocery store and wrote to all the other churches in town. Plaid Piper Gift & Floral agreed to serve as a drop-off point for donations. Its goal is 100 kits.
Once congregations have the necessary funds, bags and kit contents in hand, a variety of groups are assembling the kits, including Sunday school classes, youth groups, and women’s and older adult fellowships.
In addition to engaging its own members of all ages, the United Church of Christ of Wishek, N.D., will have UCC youth from across the state decorate canvas bags and assemble kits when they meet in October for their Northern Plains Conference of the UCC youth rally. The goal is at least 125 kits total.
I hope the UCC’s efforts inspire you, the reader, to help Church World Service stock up on CWS School Kits. For more information, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Cindy Watson at Church World Service (email@example.com). More information about the CWS Kits program may be found at www.cwsglobal.org/get-involved/kits/
Zach Wolgemuth is the Executive for United Church of Christ Disaster Ministries, based in Cleveland, Ohio.