UMCOR's Advance Story of the Month, December 2001 (updated December 2003) describes one church's involvement in UMCOR's material resources ministries (UMCOR Advance #901440).
"It all just came together, you just had to ask and keep on asking until you found the right people to do the right thing." That's how Linda Boswell described her church's successful effort to assemble more than 2,000 health kits that went to displaced people in Angola and perhaps Mozambique, Tajikistan, Armenia, or Kosovo.
Linda is the chairperson of the mission team at Northbrook United Methodist Church in Roswell, Georgia. Early in 2001 they decided to do a health kit project and voted to raise funds for it through the September Communion Rail offering. Not knowing what a realistic goal would be, they just picked a number: 2001. They would try and assemble 2001 health kits for the UMCOR Depot that would be sent wherever they were most needed.
How were they going to raise enough money and material donations to assemble 2001 kits? That's 2001 bars of soap, hand towels, washcloths, nail files, combs, toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste, and 12,006 bandages! Linda's husband Jim got on the phone and started contacting corporations to see if they could get some of the items donated. He was able to get all the toothbrushes, toothpaste, nail files, combs and many of the band-aids through corporate donations. The congregation worked together to raise the rest: one man bought most of the soap and the washcloths, they found a company that would sell them hand towels at .30 cents a piece, the Boy Scout troop at the church collected thousands of bandages, the congregation raised $786.00 through the communion rail offering, and children and adults of the congregation filled in the gaps with items that were still needed. They surpassed their goal and ended up with enough supplies to assemble 2,289 health kits!
The congregation's Health Kit Delivery Team, made up of seven adults ranging in age from their early fifties to 78, traveled to the UMCOR Depot for four days at the beginning of November to assemble the kits. The corporations shipped their donations directly to the Depot so the church would not have to transport or ship them. A truck rental agency gave them a generous discount on a van so the team could deliver the items the church had gathered. Assembling so many kits in such a limited time was a daunting task, but other volunteers visiting the Depot from Louisiana and Panama City Beach, Florida joined in the effort. Working together, they were able to complete all 2,289 kits before they left the Depot.
The Northbrook congregation did not care where the health kits ended up-- they knew UMCOR would send them to people who needed them. But the fact that most of them are going to Angola has special meaning for Linda. When she was living in Louisiana, she traveled to Angola with Bishop Solomon to deliver a shipment of tennis shoes that the Louisiana Conference had gathered.
And what is life like for the people of Angola who will be receiving these kits from the Northbrook church? Angola has been ravaged by war for many years, and over 3.8 million people are internally displaced. Because of ongoing warfare in the rural areas, thousands of people have fled to the cities, which cannot accommodate such numbers. There is fierce competition for limited resources and employment opportunities. Those who have been displaced live in warehouses, on the streets, or in camps in deplorable conditions. There is a shortage of everything-- food, potable water, cooking utensils, tools, seeds, shelter materials, and hygiene supplies. Health facilities cannot serve the large numbers of displaced people, children are malnourished, and there are not enough schools.
The two annual conferences of the United Methodist Church in Angola have requested supplies for displaced people living in their midst. Two thousand of the health kits assembled by the Northbrook church will be sent in a container full of supplies for these people.
What does a health kit contain? Basic hygiene supplies-- items we take for granted, yet depend on to maintain our health: toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, washcloth, handtowel, comb, fingernail clippers or nail file, and bandages (click here for a detailed list and instructions on assembling the kit). It doesn't seem like much-- but it is a welcome gift for someone who doesn't have even these basic supplies. It can mean the difference between maintaining health and contracting or spreading disease. And health kits serve another valuable purpose: people living in extreme circumstances find it a challenge to maintain their sense of self worth. With the resources to clean and groom themselves, people can bolster their self-esteem.
During this Advent and Christmas season, please consider sending a gift to someone who is living in difficult circumstances in another land. Take a fresh look at what really matters in life. Our faith, our families, friends, churches and communities, time to enjoy life, being with the people we love, reaching out to people in need-- all of this seems more important than ever.
If you are looking for meaningful ways to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, UMCOR's Material Resource Ministry offers several opportunities. You can give a desperately needed gift, like a health kit, to someone in a war-torn country, someone who has been displaced from their home, someone who has no home but the city streets or a tent in a refugee camp, or someone who lives in poverty. Thousands of people will be thrilled to receive a new toothbrush, some notebook paper, fabric for a skirt, or a receiving blanket for their new baby.
You can help UMCOR send these simple, essential gifts to people in places like Angola, Liberia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan, and maybe even Afghanistan. Health kits, layettes, school kits, sewing kits-- these are simple gifts you can assemble and send to the UMCOR Depot in Baldwin, Louisiana. Whether you send one kit, a few kits, or thousands of kits-- they are all needed and will be eagerly received. Volunteers and Depot staff will sort them, pack them, and send them on their way to the people who need them.
Please join in UMCOR's Material Resource Ministry by assembling and shipping kits to the UMCOR Depot (click here for instructions) or by giving financial gifts to "Material Resource Ministry," UMCOR Advance #901440. Monetary gifts may be given through any United Methodist Church, or sent directly to: UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115..
Photos:1. Joyce Stone of Northbrook United Methodist Church assembles several of the 2001 health kits that the church sent to the UMCOR Depot in 2001. Kits include soap, hand towels, washcloths, nail files, combs, toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste, and bandages. Credit: courtesy of Northbrook UMC, Roswell, Georgia. 2. These Angolan young people wait for the Bishop to arrive for Sunday morning worship at Quessua Mission, Angola. They are internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the north-east area of the country. A health clinic for children and mothers is open after the worship service each Sunday. Most of the kits from Northbrook UMC in Roswell, Georgia will go to Angola.Credit: Kristin Sachen/UMCOR, 2001. 3. A job well done! Members of Northbrook United Methodist Church stand by boxes filled with health kits to be sent to UMCOR. Credit: courtesy of Northbrook UMC, Roswell, Georgia.