August 15, 2016

Backpacks: God’s Work

Back to school time! Pencils, pencil boxes, notebooks, markers, glue sticks, tissues, hand sanitizer... Lists of required school supplies are long and diverse for each grade, each school. Many churches engage their members to “shop the list” and bring items to be given to families in need, often supplying backpacks too – sometimes several hundred at a time.

Today, we highlight the extraordinary backpack ministry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Logansport, Indiana (Diocese of Northern Indiana). Trinity’s average Sunday attendance is 65. On August 6, many of those folks distributed more than 750 backpacks and all the supplies students needed.
In 2006, when Trinity first realized the community need, the church gave away 40 filled backpacks. School Supply Giveaway project chairperson Deb Miller says the effort grew because of the “generosity of spirit” living in the people of Trinity.   

“We believe we are to be the hands and feet of Christ, and that we should serve others in His name,” Deb explains. She adds that often the work takes people out of their comfort zone, but they find rewards personally and for their parish.

"If we take care of God's work, God will take care of us." As evidence, Deb cites that some new members were attracted by Trinity's Gospel service. They wanted to live it and to hear Good New too.

Good news travels. As Trinity’s effort gained attention, other area churches stepped up, one now supplying 300 backpacks to families in need, and another in a rural area distributing 200.
Trinity welcomes the help for local schools where up to 80% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches.

As Trinity’s backpack ministry grew, God provided collaborations that evolved into additional ministries. A crew from the local Work Release program does some of the heavy lifting. Trinity provides these court-appointed volunteers home-cooked meals, along with fellowship and acceptance. No surprise that some join the Trinity family when their Work Release obligation ends.
With ten years of experience, Trinity has “back to school” down to a science. Parishioners shop sales all year to bring both backpacks and school supplies, creating a large inventory. In the weeks before the distribution, the supplies are bagged according to the requirements for each grade. Days before the festive give-away, filled bags line Trinity’s pews. On distribution day, students may choose the backpack they want, and fill it with the appropriate bag of supplies.

Deb Miller has this advice for congregations wanting to grow their backpack/school supply ministry: Communicate! Over and over! Tell stories throughout the year of need, joy and God’s provision. Help people see that when they help, they are serving Christ.

If your church is not actively involved in a service ministry, Deb heartily recommends starting one.

“Take a good look at the neighborhood around your church. Pay attention to what the neighborhood looks like. Learn what needs exist. Then just jump in and try something! You might find that your good effort leads to something even better suited to your gifts.”

That’s how God works!

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