by Kathy Marson
SPOKANE, Wash., January 25, 2017 -- What happens when you see a need and your church decides to fill it? Jane Williams, board member of the Better Living Center (BLC) in Spokane, Wash., finds out.
The BLC runs a food bank that serves some of the neediest families in Spokane County. Williams saw a community need for more than food. She invited her local Linwood Church family to help provide Christmas presents for the children of the families who come to the BLC for food.
These church members raised well over $2,000 to purchase nearly 400 gifts. They spent hours wrapping and many, many hours shopping. “Jane shopped late at night to avoid the crowds,” says Gayle Haeger, urban ministries coordinator for Spokane.
As moms and dads came into the BLC for food, gifts were given to them for their children. The beautifully wrapped gifts were organized into age groups so appropriate gifts were given to each family.
One mother of four children was appreciative to the point of tears. “We’ve been struggling so hard, and this will make such a difference,” she told the staff.
When Patty Marsh, Upper Columbia Conference community services director, heard about the Christmas presents, she said, “I love the synergy behind this story — the BLC working hard to fill hungry stomachs, and quietly Linwood supporters lift this ministry in a totally unexpected way filling grieving hearts. It's warmed my heart all morning.”
Thank you to the many volunteers and donors who made these Christmas gifts possible. And may we say, as Marsh said, “I'm praying the spirit of love behind these gifts will be felt in the hearts of those receiving.” And may this generous spirit domino into even more avenues to share the love of Jesus with others this year.
After the story above went to print, we received more information from Jane Williams. We would like to share this additional information as it rounds out the story and may be helpful to other churches who are thinking about a similar project.
Q: Who came up with the idea to give a present to each child served by the Better Living Center?
A: Through the Linwood Sabbath School program, the church studied the Quarterly titled “Church in the Community” during the third quarter of 2016. The study increased our awareness of the need for our church to be active in the community and we began to seek out opportunities for service. Linwood is a constituent church for the Better Living Center and several of our members serve on the Board of Directors of the Center. One of the Board members, inspired by the Holy Spirit, recommended an outreach program designed to support the clients of the Better Living Center during the hectic and demanding Christmas season.
It is the mission of the Center to reach beyond the primary food bank provisions and support the clients in every aspect of their lives. Christmas provides opportunities to reach out and to establish connections that might not be available at a different time of the year. The Center wants to earn the trust of their clients in hope that relationships can be formed and doors opened for additional opportunities to service their needs.
Our hope and prayer at Linwood was to support the Center in their mission. Our prayer was that gifts for the clients children would lighten their load and brighten their spirits during this hectic time of year. As parents ourselves, we recognize the way to someone’s heart is to provide comfort and joy and hope to one’s children.
Q: Describe how the church members caught the vision.
A: During the Church Life segment of our worship service, the vision of the project was shared with our members. The vision was immediately embraced as a project that the Church wanted to support.
Q: Were you able to be a part of giving out the gifts and hear their responses?
A: In this project, Linwood was “behind the scenes.”. Linwood members provided the gifts and managed the inventory to ensure an adequate supply of packages for all ages and “manned” the inventory distribution center in the backroom of the Center. The office personnel at the Center had the joy of interacting directly with the clients and presenting the gifts based on the age and gender of the client’s children.
We were blessed to provide 324 individual gifts over a four-week period for the children of the Better Living Center, reaching children from infants to age 19. Interestingly, the most populated group of children were found to be boys and young men from 13 to 19.
We would have loved to be present when the gifts were given to the children to see their excitement and joy. But that privilege belonged to their moms and dads. To God be the glory.
Q: How were you able to purchase and wrap such a large amount of gifts?
It was clear to those of us at Linwood that did the majority of the shopping for this project that God was with us on our shopping excursions. Shopping carts heaped with gifts inspire many questions from both fellow shoppers and Retail personnel. We had many opportunities to share the project mission and give God the glory. In response, we experienced several Retail personnel, who “found” ways to give us the benefit of “special” coupons and discounts that stretched our dollars. We would walk away thanking the Holy Spirit for His presence and His promptings as we searched for the perfect presents. We were blessed to be the “secret shoppers” for His children.
Linwood took the opportunity to include our Sabbath School children in this project by having them decorate gift bags for some of the gifts. Our outstanding teachers in the program made this a “teachable” moment about the true meaning of Christmas and the reality that it is “better to give than to receive”.
For those gifts that were not in bags, we wrapped and wrapped and wrapped!! We wanted to make sure that the packages were delightful to the eye and complete with tags and candy canes! Ready to go under the tree and be something the parents would be excited to share with their children. Our goal was to do our best to follow Corinthians 10: 31 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Another blessing for us at Linwood, was to see the encouraged volunteers at the Better Living Center. Each dedicated and caring volunteer seemed encouraged to know that Linwood members were committed to share the love of Christ with their clients.
Q: Are the members of Linwood Church thinking of doing this again?
A: Linwood will be discussing the opportunity to do this project again next year. As with any project, we learned from our successes and learned from our challenges, so we recognize that we can enhance the project second time around. God is good and many were blessed. We will be praying for God’s guidance going forward.
Q: What was your reward?
A: Our rewards were the blessings received from the act of giving generously to those who need encouragement and hope and love. The one thing God wants is a personal relationship with us. And in turn He wants us to establish relationships with others and to share His love. This project provided the Center with the opportunity to do just that - to show the love of Christ to those He has brought to the Center to be served”. What more could we ask for?