Cooperation Releases Abundance!
School Supply Kits Create New Connection
By Jennifer Rowan
The political shutdown on refugee intake has left many in our community with much energy and enthusiasm, but with few means to feel effective. After a successful partnership with RRCLC to host the World Refugee Day event last June and another collaboration with RRCLC and the Eugene Public Library to screen Jon Stewart’s documentary After Spring, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Eugene’s (UUCE) Refugee Sanctuary Project learned of a variation of the refugee relief kit program organized by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). This consists of prescribed sets of school supplies assembled into cloth drawstring bags to be shipped to numerous overseas locations for distribution to needy children, many restricted to refugee camps with scant resources and opportunities.
Our local Mennonite community has already been creating school kits and other relief kits targeted to refugees. Nationally, over 70,000 school kits were assembled last year and sent to waiting hands in regions of crisis and disaster. Other local groups had seen in the school kit project a simple and effective way to provide something unambiguously serviceable to those in great need.
Our UUCE group was likewise inspired and energized. We also recognized that our timing for the project was critical in the pre-Christmas season when people are naturally tuned in to good causes, both near at hand and far afield. We began with a modest goal of 50 school kits. Our church’s sewing group “Quilting for a Cause” was already committed to creating individual quilts for the future residents of St. Vincent de Paul’s new Youth House Project in the former Cascade Presbyterian Church; however, they stepped up when we asked and volunteered to help sew the drawstring bags for the kits. As bags were completed, donations of school supplies were dropped off each Sunday after service at our project information table where we were handing out shopping lists (with local pricing for best deals) and updating a chart that tallied up what supplies we had received and what were still needed.
One of our UUCE Quilters came to us with a stunning proposition: her adult daughter is a member of a local Baby Bootcamp group that was looking for a seasonal service project. They were captivated by the idea of school kits and made the offer to provide supplies to complete 30 bags So we turned over the first 30 sewn bags for them to fill at a Saturday work party in mid-December. Our reaction to this generosity was to increase our project goal to 100 kits, and we made another trip to Joanne Fabrics for more yardage. Meanwhile, we brainstormed a way that UUCE’s religious education program could be involved by asking the kids to assemble the contents for 40 more sewn bags. About twenty kids in two classes participated.
As we neared the last days of December, we had already decided that we wanted to do another thirty kits, for a grand total of 130. Back to Joanne Fabrics for more material; back to Jerry’s Home Improvement for more paracord for the drawstrings. A new wave of sewing commenced.
In the meantime, our minister, the Reverend Sydney Morris, always supportive of the project and the ways it had engaged so many in our congregation, offered to dedicate the entire offering from both Christmas Eve evening services towards the school kit fund. The remaining supplies were purchased, and after Sunday service on January 7, the UUCE Refugee Sanctuary Group finished packing the remainder of the kit contents in their colorful drawstring bags. The completed kits were then packed tightly into wine boxes and delivered to Becky Schenck at the Eugene Mennonite Church in west Eugene to await transport to Hubbard, Oregon, then to be shipped to the next stage along their long journey.
When I think of all the circles of people who found ways to be involved with this school kit project, I remember my husband’s oft-repeated saying when we first met in downtown Detroit 35 years ago at a monthly meeting of the Cass Corridor Food Co-op (most appropriately at the First Unitarian Universalist Church): “Cooperation Releases Abundance!”