Backpack Project Flourishes at New Community UMC

March 30, 2009

New Community United Methodist Church in Oakhurst, California took an idea from another church and "ran with it" - and thinks it could inspire other UMCs.


Debbie Gudger, an active member of New Community, says that years ago she read in the Conference newsletter about Gridley UMC's backpack project, and suggested it for her church. A Backpack Team was formed in 2003 and has been supplying the Madera County Child Protective Services Department with backpacks filled with supplies for children in crisis, ever since - delivering its one-thousandth backpack in February of this year.


"President Barack Obama has challenged Americans to volunteer as never before. The members of the New Community United Methodist Church in Oakhurst volunteer in many ways, including the Backpack Ministry . . . . providing backpacks with age-appropriate clothing, games, toiletries, books, stuffed animals and candy to infants, children and teenagers in crisis in Madera County," wrote Ray Edmondson of NCUMC, in a February 19 article, "Church Gives 1,000th Backpack," published in The Sierra Star.


"These items are designed to help them adjust to a new and different environment. These can be children who are removed from unsafe homes, homeless children, those residing in rescue missions or those in families with low incomes. More than 10 children each month receive the backpacks," he wrote.


In the February 19 Sierra Star article, Edmondson noted that the backpacks and all of the supplies they contain are donated by church members or the church thrift shop.


The Backpack Team meets monthly to sort the donated supplies and fill the backpacks for delivery, he wrote.


"These ladies are so dedicated to helping children in need and I'm glad . . . to share their story with the Conference," Gudger says.


"I think it's important to share our success and pay it forward," she adds. "Perhaps another church will be inspired."


Burlingame UMC has a backpack ministry, as well. In partnership with secular service organizations and the San Mateo Medical Center, Burlingame gives away backpacks stuffed with school supplies at a "Backpackpalooza" party on a Saturday in August.