BY EMILY O'CONNOR, COMMUNICATIONS INTERN
Sean walked out of Grace this weekend and picked up a green bag. He figured he could buy an extra box of cereal or can of black beans this week at the grocery. He ended up filling the bag with cereal, baby formula, a box of cookies, and three cans of black beans. He didn’t feel like it was much, and he didn’t know how much of a difference it would make, but he felt good about helping somehow.
Grace’s Care Center is halfway through its “Run to It” green bag initiative, and it has already received more than 3,200 bags.
“The normal goal is 2,000 bags,” said Nick Pease, director of the Care Center’s volunteers. “We’ve already eclipsed that, which is amazing.”
In September and October, the Care Center is aiming to receive 10,000 green bags, which will not only be used to help Hamilton County’s community, but some will be sent to the Midwest Food Bank to help victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
“We’ve already sent more than 30 or 40 palettes to the food bank,” Pease said.
Beth and her husband were looking for ways to give back to the community with their kids. They heard about sorting Care Center donations on Monday nights at Grace, so they jumped in. Beth picked her fifth bag and sorted the cereal, baby formula, box of cookies, and three cans of black beans into bins, all the while learning that the woman sorting next to her lived in her neighborhood and had kids the same age as hers. They exchanged numbers and talked about having a cook out soon.
Every Monday night, volunteers sort through hundreds of donations. The Care Center keeps enough to stock its shelves and sends everything else to the food bank for people in Texas.
The Care Center feeds more than 500 families every week, but its goal is to provide a meaningful experience for volunteers to build relationships and serve their community. This new initiative has already provided more than 150 new volunteers, Pease said, and several have signed up to serve every week.
“It’s okay if we don’t hit 10,000 bags,” Pease said. “Our goal is to get our congregation engaged, and for them to understand that green bags give hope, dignity, and love to our friends.”
Andrea and her husband just moved to Indiana from Texas a few months earlier, but they separated after the stress of the move became too much. Now she was hours away from home, she needed a job that could pay rent, and she had to care for a newborn baby. Andrea’s neighbor told her about the Care Center -- she could go once a week and get groceries, which meant she could save her money to pay rent and utilities.
She went to the Care Center for the first time and felt slightly uncomfortable; Andrea didn’t know anyone, and she wasn’t a usual church attender. But the volunteers gave her smiles and asked how she was doing. They didn’t make her bring birth certificates and pay stubs; she could just be there and be trusted. All she took that week was some cereal, baby formula, a box of cookies, and three cans of black beans, but the love she felt was unparalleled. Finally, she wasn’t alone.
“Just come see and experience what we’re doing, just once,” Pease said. “Because walking through the Care Center, you could see the Venezuelan family that has been in the U.S. for two weeks. You could see the Iraqi family restarting life in a new country. You could see the family from Westfield that lives just down the street from you. We’re trying to love and care for people, and we want to show our volunteers that they can be part of that process.”