For more than 30 years, the Federated Church of Rochester, Vt., has made Church World Service one of its major missions. Estelle Holmquist has led this drive since she joined the church.
Every spring we have a drive to make as many CWS Kits as we can. Then Estelle loads them up in her husband’s truck and drives to one of the state’s drop-off points for pickup by the CWS truck.
Many people in Central Vermont know firsthand about the great work that Church World Service does. It was, after all, only three years ago that Hurricane Irene devastated the area. CWS sent kits of all kinds up here to help out.
Some members of my church received that assistance – me included. When Irene hit, the very small brook 10 to 15 feet behind our house came out of its banks and ran through the stone and concrete foundation of our house, flooding the basement and taking out our septic system and exposing our well head.
My husband and I both worked for the Vermont United Church of Christ Conference office in Randolph at the time. The Conference had just done a large drive to help supply CWS Kits for flooding a month earlier in the U.S. Northwest. We never thought that a month later we would be receiving CWS Kits to help ourselves! When we got word that CWS was sending kits up to Vermont we were thrilled. We knew many people in the area could use them.
We took a CWS Emergency Cleanup Bucket ourselves to help clean out our flooded basement. It was a long cleanup process and it took over a year before we finally had a working septic system and the well was restored. It was over two years before the house and yard were finally finished.
There are many, many stories similar to ours in the state. Many people lost a lot more than we did. Many lost homes.
So when Church World Service put out the notice this summer about having a shortage of CWS School Kits, and the United Church of Christ offered $250 matching grants as an incentive to congregations to make the kits, I said to Estelle and our pastor, the Rev. Greg Homan, “How about we help and do a special drive?”
“That would be great!” they exclaimed. Estelle always makes the bags from cloth donations and said she had quite a bit of material on hand.
“Let’s set a goal and a deadline,” I said. We have a small church with about 45-50 people every Sunday. “The most we’ve collected in CWS School Kits in the past was around 40,” Estelle explained.
I suggested that we set our goal higher and challenge the church to make 75. “I don’t know if we can get that many,” Estelle said, “but we can try.” We gave our members one month to get the items to the church.
People were asked to pick up extra school supplies when they were shopping for their own children and grandchildren. Some people gave us cash donations with which we purchased more supplies. We had a large box at the church and every Sunday, Estelle and I would collect the donations and she would take them back to her house.
At the end of the month we spread out the supplies on Estelle’s basement pool table and made an assembly line. We soon realized we needed more bags; we had enough supplies for 94 bags.
Using a $25 credit for material from the Gifford Hospital thrift shop in Randolph, Estelle made more bags. Then a couple of people who missed church the week before brought more kits. We ended our drive with 116 CWS School Kits in six weeks! We are thrilled that our church stepped up to the challenge and exceeded it.
We always hear stories on the news about how various aid groups help in times of disaster – in the Midwest, in New Orleans, overseas. It always makes people in the church happy to see that their efforts help people.
We are fortunate to live in a place that very rarely sees this type of disaster. It’s one thing to hear the stories and another to actually be the place needing the help. It’s a blessing to know that when Church World Service says it will help, it means exactly that – not just in other parts of the world, but in ours, too.
We also thank the United Church of Christ for offering the matching grant and allowing us to be able to do more than we hoped.
Lynn Thomas and Estelle Holmquist are members of the Federated Church of Rochester, Vt.