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Community Outreach - But Wait...There's More! (Partnering with the Salvation Army)
Partnering with Existing Organizations
In my previous posts,
I talk about partnering with existing organizations to jump start outreach efforts and also provide examples of some ways to develop your own ideas.
In this article, I'll be providing more of the same. It's my desire to show you how many options are out there, that they are relatively easy to implement, and what can be done in a short period of time. As stated previously, our CommunityConnections ministry was formed less than 2 years ago, but God has blessed it, people have caught the vision, and lives are being impacted every day.
We've just come out of the holiday season which is a great time to do outreach. People who may not normally think about getting involved are moved by a spirit of giving during this time of the year. Because of the immensity of the projects we've begun to take on, it's obvious that early planning is extremely helpful. So the new year is a great time to begin to lay out your plans - even in rough draft form - for what the upcoming year can hold.
Once again, I refer to what I know...the experience of our church. Last Christmas was the first time we held a Living Nativity. This form of outreach gave us the opportunity to invite our neighbors to hear the Christmas story in a fun, different, non-threatening way. Actors and live animals were stationed around the property and vignettes played out to tell the story. Once inside, attendees could listen to the choir, handbells, have something warm to drink or a delicious goodie while children made several crafts.
To introduce those who came to the idea of doing for others, we presented 2 ideas. The first was very simple...fill out a Christmas card for a soldier. I was amazed at the time and care people took to do this. Some wrote lengthy notes of thanks, others decorated their cards with pictures. At the end of the weekend, hundreds of cards were shipped off to troops who were serving overseas.
The second idea required a little more effort, but was a huge hit. We created "Soup & Socks". People signed up to return to the church 3 weeks later to serve a warm meal and give out socks to the folks who use the Salvation Army Drop In Center. Unfortunately, we hit a snag...a good snag. I had not done sufficient homework, and after the fact, I discovered that no one under 18 could work in the Center, and that their kitchen was small - 12 to 15 helpers was all they could really accommodate. We had received an overwhelming response - over 40 people - including a number of families with young children - so we had to think fast.
It was decided that this outreach could be done in 3 parts. Families were invited to put together the sandwiches, bag cookies, wash fruit and sort socks at our church about an hour and a half prior to heading over to the Center. The remaining adults headed over to the Center to do the actual serving. Others who were unable to serve on that day made trays of cookies, pots of soup, or donated items like bottled water, bread, sandwich meats, and the socks we distributed. This 'multi-level' approach allowed many more people to get involved.
We also simplified food prep by distributing 2 recipes - one for the chicken soup and one for the cookies. In that way, although a dozen different people made the food, it was all the same. In the case of the baked ziti and mac and cheese mentioned below, we also provided inexpensive foil pans so everything was the same size.
Because of the huge draw of this outreach, we decided to put it on our calendar quarterly, but "Soup & Socks" just wouldn't make sense in the summer months. We changed the name to "Meals & More" and in the warmer months, we assemble hygiene kits with toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitizer and tissues, or some combination thereof. Items are put in Ziploc bags and handed out after the meal. The meal itself changes with the season. We've served chicken soup with turkey (or ham) and cheese sandwiches, baked ziti with salad and bread and baked maccaroni and cheese with ham on the side and salad. Each of these meals also includes bottled water or iced tea, home made chocolate chip cookies, apples and oranges.
One cautionary word of advice is with regard to pork products. You never want to offend your audience. While we offered ham, we prepared and served it separately. We've only ever had a handful of people reject pork, but we always want to make sure they have an option.
We are hoping to expand this outreach to semi-monthly or even monthly because we simply cannot accommodate everyone who wants to volunteer. Each outreach we have 'wait lists' who have first dibs on the next outting. The one thing that makes it difficult to do more often is funds. We are looking into ways to get donations of the more costly things like lunch meat and salad fixings.
One way to do that is to ask corporations for donations. The link above is for Panera Bread. It will take you to their community page which lists several ways they provide help to groups doing charitable work. Do you have a local bakery? Ask them for the end of the day rolls - or to make a donation for your specific event. We also have a Wonder Bread Thrift Store. While our local store no longer makes donations, you may have better luck with one near you. The key is to ask. You'd be amazed at how many businesses are willing to help out, even if it's just a one time donation. As word of what you're doing spreads, more businesses may be willing to help. Sometimes, they don't mind doing it, they just don't want to be the one that tests the waters with you.
Walmart/Sams Club is another organization which offers community outreach type grants which you can obtain more information on by visiting their web site.
Meals & More was just one idea that we partnered with the Salvation Army on, but they are an organization that has been doing community outreach for many years, so they are a wonderful source of ideas for your group. Our local center gives music lessons (piano, drums) and some of our congregants have given of their time to teach the children who take those lessons. Our local Salvation Army also has a program called Mobile Meals. A 'lunch truck' goes into some of the rougher neighborhoods every Friday evening and offers free meals. I've gone with them on several occasions and it's a well-oiled operation which is able to serve several hundred meals to local folks. Sometimes an extra is delivered with the meals - like free book bags before school begins in September.
Just this one organization could keep you busy for months, but stay tuned for the next post...we haven't run out of ideas yet!