Thanks to an imaginative “matching grant” challenge, United Church of Christ congregations across the United States are outdoing themselves to make CWS School Kits – urgently needed by Church World Service to meet demand.
Following the two latest shipments totaling 30,000 CWS School Kits to partner IOCC for children in Syria and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Church World Service 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.
“CWS School Kits give children buffeted by war, natural disaster and poverty some of the basic tools for learning,” said UCC Disaster Ministries Executive Zach Wolgemuth, Cleveland, Ohio. “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.”
Touched to think of the thousands of children waiting for CWS School Kits, Wolgemuth earmarked $50,000 in a UCC material aid fund for “matching grants” for the denomination’s 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,” he said.
Just three weeks into the campaign, 31 congregations had pledged 1,735 CWS School Kits.
Participating congregations are going above and beyond their $250 match. They are stretching their resources by taking advantage of back-to-school sales. And they are enlisting not only their own members but also their communities, including other congregations and area businesses, in the project.
Here are some of their stories.
UNITED CHURCH OF MAPLETON, MINN.
Hugo John said the United Church of Mapleton, Minn., has sent 30 to 50 CWS School Kits, along with CWS Baby Care and Hygiene Kits, to Church World Service every year for the last 10 years. “With the UCC matching grant,” he said, “we expect to make it 100 CWS School Kits this year.”
The UCC’s $250 was matched out of the congregation’s budget. Large tubs were placed in the church foyer to receive members’ in-kind contributions. The church also 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 soliciting cash and school supplies. Plaid Piper Gift & Floral agreed to serve as a drop-off point for donations.
Hugo and his wife Pat said their experience working in situations of need in Central America, Eastern Europe and Africa showed them the value of CWS School Kits. Pat described a school in a squatter camp in Zimbabwe where each child was rationed just half a piece of paper and half a crayon.
“CWS School Kits show children that somebody cares for them,” Pat said. “That’s true in this country also, when you’ve lost everything in a hurricane or tornado. It’s pretty dismal unless you have something to fall back on.
The congregation’s women’s fellowship will collate the kits, and is aiming to ship at least 100 kits to CWS by mid-August.
UNION CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH UCC, HOLLY HILL, FLA.
At Union Congregational Church UCC in Holly Hill, Fla., response to the pastor’s announcement of the project was swift and generous. The goal was 50 kits, but in just two weeks, congregants contributed enough funds for 100 kits.
“My wife Eileen, the pastor’s wife and a couple other women in the church have been meeting to make the bags,” said David Heald, a lay member of the church active in disaster ministry.
Eileen added, “One of us cuts the pieces, one does the straight seams, one presses the seams open and one finishes the bags up. A fifth woman is sewing 10 bags at home. And a sixth did all the shopping. We are having back-to-school sales and the buyer got the best of deals, spending only $3 for the contents of each bag.
Union Congregational Church UCC has “just 80 members, but we are very strong in our mission work and outreach,” Eileen continued. “I could speak for everyone involved that we feel so blessed in our lives and certainly have an open heart for any not as blessed. And we want to give every child an advantage.
“As we sew, we picture the children flocking around the box of CWS School Kits, then enjoying the different fabrics. We all have our memories of the first week of school and of looking at our new school supplies.”
UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST OF WISHEK, N.D.
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 fall youth rally.
“This means between 80 and 100 children and youth will participate,” said Pastor Tammy Toepke-Floyd. The goal: 125 or more CWS School Kits.
"I've always liked to do whatever we can for CWS,” Toepke-Floyd added. “We’ve done kits before in my Sunday school. I say to my church when we do something that supports CWS, when disaster strikes or there’s a surge of refugees, you and I wish we could be there but we can’t. Sometimes we can make a little mission trip close to home, but we can’t be all over the world. When we support CWS and UCC Global Ministries, we are present, we are meeting needs. This is one way we reach out beyond our church walls and community borders.”
BAITING HOLLOW CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, CALVERTON, N.Y.
Jane Talmage said the Goodwill Club women’s fellowship at Baiting Hollow Congregational Church in Calverton, N.Y., “began doing CWS School Kits many years ago. Last year we sent 25 CWS School Kits, plus some CWS Hygiene Kits.
“So when I heard about the UCC’s offer of $250 in matching funds, I thought, ‘Why not apply? It fits what we do anyway.’”
The congregation’s Carpenters for Christ program refurbishes used furniture and sells it at the church’s yard sale and online to raise money for missions. The program donated $275 for the CWS School Kits project.
Talmage reported that thanks to smart shopping by the congregation’s CWS School Kits chairperson, it is assembling kits for $3.79 each. “You have to shop now when the school supplies are on sale!” she counseled.
The Goodwill Club plans to put together 70 CWS School Kits by the end of August.
Editor's Note: By August 20, 56 UCC churches had requested grants and pledged 2,990 kits. When the United Church of Mapleton, Minn., a congregation of the United Church of Christ, set to assembling CWS School Kits in response to an urgent appeal from its denomination’s disaster ministries, it expected to produce 100. It produced 126, along with 32 CWS Hygiene Kits and 20 CWS Baby Care Kits! The congregation’s generous contribution helps CWS meet a steady need for kits – and especially to help CWS stock up to meet an especially heavy demand for CWS School Kits. The United Church of Christ is a CWS member denomination.