By Juliane Poirier
Communications Manager, FUMC of Napa, CA
On the last weekend of September, the congregation of Napa’s First United Methodist Church (FUMC) engaged in a full-throttle effort to better the lives of less fortunate members of that California community. Compassion Weekend was the brainchild of Liz Marks, a mother of two and active member of the church since 2006. After hearing Rev. Marylee Sheffer, FUMC Napa’s pastor, describe what other churches were doing for Compassion Week, Marks was inspired to spearhead compassion activities at her own church.
With Sheffer and others, Marks brainstormed ways to serve the homeless on the weekend of Sept 28-29, 2019. The Compassion Weekend planners ultimately decided on creation of hygiene kits and meal bags.
Church members were given a list of items to donate for hygiene kits—items essential for anyone living on the streets, outside the homeless shelter. Donations came flooding in. Before the items were sorted and bagged, all the donations were placed in woven baskets in the sanctuary, allowing congregants to see during worship the staggering volume of things collected—an uplifting sight. The baskets were brimming with soaps, combs, socks, toothbrushes, and other essentials.
“It was a great visual experience, to see what we had all accomplished together,” Marks says. “How all the small items we had donated individually had amassed collectively.”
One parishioner suggested asking people to sew drawstring cloth bags to contain the kits, rather than using plastic. From a surplus of high-quality fabrics recently donated to the church, volunteers sewed elegant-looking bags, attractive and much nicer than what is available in stores.
Volunteers stayed after worship to pre-sort the donated goods, and on Sunday evening the youth—with some adult direction—enjoyed a pizza dinner and assembled 60 hygiene kits, divided into men’s and women’s articles.
While the Sunday school children crafted fetching paper flower arrangements to give to the church’s homebound population, food for the homeless was prepared and packed by an intergenerational group of more than 20 volunteers, the youngest one only four years old. The weekend timing of these dinner bags was key, since free meals are only available to the homeless in Napa on weekdays.
Both the food bags and the hygiene kits were delivered to the local homeless shelter for distribution to people living on the streets. The shelter staff declared themselves impressed by the beautiful fabric bags; leftover kit items were donated to the shelter to be used by those in need throughout the coming winter.
Compassion Weekend brought people together in service and was deemed a huge success.
“Altogether, about a third of the congregation participated,” Marks reports. “I loved the intergenerational aspect of the weekend. People really loved the hands-on work [of] helping others.”