By Brett Hetherington*
This year has been one where many Ohioans have been forced to examine their own limitations, in resources. Yet Faith United Methodist Church (Tuscarawas District) in North Canton has found a way to share from its abundance to ensure that 160 families in the community will not go hungry this Thanksgiving.
“It really is a blessing as a church to be able to share as a community,” said Teresa Purses, a lay member participating in the churchwide study of Tom Berlin’s book Defying Gravity.
“Our small group had been reading the book and Zooming each Sunday night and wanted to give our stewardship ideas legs,” she elaborated.
“There’s no Toys for Tots, no food drives, nothing like that going on this year so we felt we really needed to do something,” shared Mac McLaughlin, who facilitated the study group of which Purses was part.
Purses shared that she has the privilege of working with many school leaders across the county and is involved in working with Canton City Schools to develop its after-school programs for students attending class in-person. She is also working with Patrick Elementary School Principal Christen Sedmock on a pilot project that would provide support for the 100 students in the school whose parents have elected for their children to learn virtually.
“In our conversations, I asked Christen how our community could help her families. She shared that many of her families have so many basic needs, socks, coats, blankets – and her vision was to provide a full turkey dinner for every one of her 160 families. I let her know that we have a number of groups at Faith United who would be very interested in partnering with her,” said Purses.
When she and her study group took on the mission to provide 160 turkeys, 120 hats, scarves, gloves, coats, and 160 blankets they invited others within the church to put their skills and passions to work. “We discussed the needs of the under-resourced families that Christen had shared and decided we would each activate our own networks within the church to fill the needs.”
Requests were made to the congregation to donate turkeys. The Sewing from Missions groups committed to fulfilling the hats, scarves and gloves needs. Donations began pouring in almost immediately.
“We started getting calls, emails and donations. The church set up a donation link for people to donate funds for Thanksgiving blessings. We have Bible study groups donating funds and volunteering to sew blankets and buy coats,” shared Purses. The donations came in so swiftly that 73 turkeys were delivered along with a church bus full of coats and blankets well before Thanksgiving. Purses was able to be a part of one of those deliveries and remarked at the reaction she witnessed. “The principal and assistant principal who met us on Sunday at the school were overwhelmed by the quick action and willingness for so many to share time, talent and resources, and so appreciative of the outpouring of generosity by the Faith community.”
Going beyond just turkeys, the church also began to collect disposable roasting pans to provide to families with each bird. “We started thinking and realized that not everyone has a turkey pan to cook these in, so we wanted to make sure that anyone who needs one can be able to enjoy their Thanksgiving Day turkey,” shared Judy McLaughlin, Mac’s wife.
Purses and her group wanted to see if there were other ways the church could support local families in need of support at this time of year. “I reached out to the Family Support Specialists (who serve as liaisons between the school and the families) at North Canton City Schools and they shared a long list of needs for families in our schools. Some of the families have medically fragile children who are in the hospital and families need gas cards to travel to support their children. They also shared that so many families are facing great financial hardships during this pandemic. When I reached out to the Missions Team, Kaitlyn Schmucker immediately responded to share that her work, Utility Pipeline LTD, would donate 14 coupons good for either a turkey or a ham, any brand, up to a maximum of $20 each. Those will go to our North Canton families and we will provide other assistance.”
Faith UMC is also rallying support for families who attend the Faith Kitchen at Crystal Park United Methodist Church (Tuscarawas District) each month. “We know their finances are stretched and it is difficult having enough funds for personal hygiene and cleaning supplies, so we are collecting cleaning and personal hygiene items to distribute at our December Faith Kitchen Grab and Go food pantry,” Purses offered. The church hopes to distribute 200 buckets of supplies.
At the time of publication for this article donations were still rolling in and Faith UMC was well on the way to meeting its. The people of Faith UMC have banded together to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in the communities it serves.
“It truly is our opportunity to be the conduit of God … sharing from our over-abundance … with our brothers and sisters who find themselves through no fault of their own, in need of a hand up,” reflected Purses.
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.