A Season of Thanks

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6 great service projects that teach kids to give
back to their peers,families, and community.

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What children’s minister isn’t looking for an ultra-fun service
project for kids — especially during the season when giving thanks
is on our minds and in our hearts?

Children’s Ministry Magazine tracked down six unique, flourishing
projects in churches around the country that you can do in your
ministry. These projects have a track record of success: They’ve
grown in size and scope every year, and best of all — kids can’t
get enough!

So whether you’re looking for a family-inclusive project, a
community-boosting event, or a way to let your kids reach out
globally, you’ll be wowed by the wonderful ways these ministries
are tipping their hats to God by giving back.

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Fill It Up

What it is: Crossroads Community Church
in Lawrenceville, Georgia, began the Fill It Up project three years
ago. This children-led, churchwide project stocks the shelves of
two food pantries for an entire month.

How it works: Each Sunday during one
month, kids distribute brown grocery sacks donated by a local
grocery store to the congregation. The following Sunday,
congregation members return with their food-filled bags and place
them behind their parked cars. Kids collect the bags during worship
services and then sort and prepare the food for distribution to the
food pantries.

“Last year we raised over 20,000 food items, and this year our goal
is 40,000,” says children’s pastor Eric Echols.

The Fill It Up project is a success for the community and the
church, mostly because nearly everyone participates. Echols says he
encourages kids and their families to get involved — whether by
collecting food from family and neighbors or sorting the returned
bags.

“Helping other people is the right choice,” says second-grader
Julia Davis about the program. “I feel happy and good inside.” Her
brother, Collin, a first-grader, agrees: “It feels good to help
other people. I like doing it. It makes me happy.”

Do-It-Yourself Tips

Eric Echols offers these tips to churches hoping to begin the Fill
It Up project:

• Learn about needs. Talk to food pantries or cooperative
ministries in your community. Find out how you can help.

• Partner with other ministries. Do the project in
cooperation with your adult ministries for maximum impact.

• Get kids’ input. Give kids and families the freedom to
get creative about how they collect the food.

A Humane Mission

What it is: Ginghamsburg United Methodist
Church in Tipp City, Ohio, began the Montgomery County Humane
Society mission project three years ago after revamping their
existing family missions program. The church’s goal was to offer
mission experiences that partnered with families and connected kids
to Jesus.

How it works: Kids and families can
participate in some or all of the four steps of this service
project.

“The first step is to partner with us in praying for the orphaned
and stray animals currently sheltered at the humane society and
their caregivers,” says children’s ministry coordinator Erica
Sharp. “The second step is to make treats or toys at home and
donate them to the shelter. The third step challenges families to
purchase and donate items from a wish list given to us by the
humane society. Our final step is to visit the Montgomery County
Humane Society.”

The visit is scheduled for a Saturday morning for two hours. About
65 people participate each year. Volunteers get to socialize with
animals, help landscape, create cards and treat bags for adopted
pets, and wash the vehicles that transport animals.

Do-It-Yourself Tips

Erica Sharp suggests these tips for churches hoping to create a
similar program:

• Contact local animal shelters to learn how to help.

• Research easy-to-make pet toys that everyone can create.

• Encourage families to invite nonchurch members who also love
animals.

Great Day of Service

What it is: Davidson United Methodist
Church in Davidson, North Carolina, started a unique service
program in 1996 called the Great Day of Service. This popular
event, which blitzes the community with a huge variety of service
projects during one day, grew to 860 serving children and families
in 2005.

How it works: The church organizes a
variety of mission opportunities — all at the church or within a
30-minute drive — for families to undertake simultaneously during
one day each year. Kids and families get to choose their mission
for the day — whether it’s weeding someone’s yard or painting park
benches. The Great Day of Service has become a community highlight
and a much-anticipated time of cooperative service to others.

Mary Allen Conforti, director of missions, oversees this
flourishing program with a committee of 10 people. She says that
the key to this program’s continued success has been offering
families an enticing variety of service projects. Kid-friendly
projects include state park cleanups, cleaning and upkeep at local
schools, washing the town library’s windows, visiting retirement
homes and centers for people with disabilities, planting flowers,
and other offbeat missions.

“We have projects where children can help glean potatoes with the
Society of Saint Andrew at what is called a potato drop,” says Mary
Allen Conforti. “The kids literally bag a ton of potatoes that are
then distributed to families, soup kitchens, and food pantries in
the area.”

Do-It-Yourself Tips

Mary Allen Conforti’s tips will help you create a similar day of
service in your community.

• Select a date and publicize it a minimum of one month in advance.
Build hype just as you would for any special event.

• Allow plenty of time to plan and organize the details of the
projects. Let families select their projects well in advance, and
have them provide any needed supplies, such as paint, gloves,
shovels, and more.

• Recruit project leaders who can direct similar projects. This is
crucial to the day going smoothly.

• It’s okay to start small. And in following years, you can begin
formally planning about nine months in advance based on what works
best.

Special of the Month

What it is: At St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
in Durango, Colorado, Sunday school and preschool children collect
specific goods throughout the year and then combine their collected
items to serve meals to members of their community members.

How it works: Each month, groups of kids
are assigned an item to collect, such as pasta, canned meat, or
canned vegetables. Once the donations are in, the kids create a
meal at the church such as a spaghetti dinner to serve community
members in need. During Thanksgiving, for example, kids collect
ingredients for pumpkin pies. The ministry has a budget each month
to supply any needed extra items, such as spices and pie
tins.

“[Kids] decorate a pumpkin man during harvest time and then cook
and blend the pumpkin to make pies,” says Joyce Lundberg, director
of St. Paul’s preschool.

The project has been so successful in this small community that
this year kids are adding more than just food to their collection
lists — they’re also gathering winter coats, mittens, and hats
that they’ll distribute to families in need. Lundberg says letting
the kids be involved in serving meals and delivering needed items
has helped them better understand what Jesus means by loving
others.

     

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