I've probably written about this before and considering it's an annual event, I'll probably write about it again. And again. And again.
It has been my privilege to serve on the Board of Proverbs 31:20 Ministries. Proverbs 31:20 is a ministry that serves hurting women and children in our community. We go into area shelters and clean and refurbish rooms for those women & children who will be, unfortunately, in need of a safe place - some for a day, some for years. We also offer classes to women in our local shelters - classes that help them improve their professional skills, making themselves more marketable and making it easier for them to function in the workplace.
We offer gas and grocery cards - helping those women we serve make it through "one more month" at home - avoiding homelessness. We have counseling available (Biblical) and many other services we offer. Then... there are our events. There are three for the women and children we serve. In May we offer Spa Night, in August we pack backpacks and in December we host our Spirit of Christmas luncheon.
It's August. That means backpacks.
Tonight I head over to my church where I will work with 3 other women to set up 5 Sunday school classrooms. We'll transform them into backpack packing production lines. We're trying something different this year and I'm praying it works as well as it sounds like it will. If it does, it may mean backpacks are not a nightmare for the first time in three years. Tomorrow we will come together with almost 20 volunteers and pack 465 backpacks to be delivered next week to kids eagerly awaiting this year's supplies.
In 2008 I took on backpacks as "my" project for the ministry. It was a tough year to take it over. The previous year had seen a complete meltdown on the part of the coordinator and the Ministry's Executive Director was a bit gun shy about letting someone take over. The problem she ran into, though, was her son's little league team made it to the World Series. It meant she had to turn it over - she was out of town.
So...it came to me. There was soooooo much to do and I threw myself into the project to have a couple of major glitches practically send me screaming for the hills. Our church didn't announce our need for volunteers to help pack so packing day dawns and 5 people show up.
To pack over 500 backpacks.
And the latest any of them stayed was 1PM.
I packed over 300 backpacks on my own that year. I was tired and frustrated and by the time it came to delivery, I wanted to cry. I just wanted it done and didn't care if I ever saw another backpack as long as I lived.
Then there was Cheyenne.
Cheyene was a sweet little girl, beautiful brown hair and big eyes who came skipping up to my van when she saw us unloading the backpacks to ask what time they were going to be handed out. Then she asks if her backpack is pink.
I'm looking at a van filled with over 200 backpacks and I'm thinking there is no way I can find hers in the pile. My son is just grabbing backpacks and handing them to me.
Then...just as I ask her for her name and tell her that we can look for a few seconds but I didn't know if we'd packed her a pink backpack, my son hands me a couple more packs. And you guessed it... one of was labeled for Miss Cheyenne in the 1st grade and it was... yup... pink.
That little girl lit up so brightly I thought I was going to glow. And with that happy smile and those big eyes and bobbing brown hair, she said thank you, gave a little wave and skipped away.
And I melted.
I about cried on the spot. Every ache, pain, sleepless night, sweaty evening spent cramped in a small room at the church trying to get these backpacks packed was totally forgotten.
And I knew God had put me exactly where He wanted me.
And I'd be back.
Last year we tried to do a few things a bit differently. It definitely ran better than 2008 but it wasn't great. It was, however, 623 backpacks that went to children who desperately needed school supplies. The imperfections always melt away in the face of those children.
How much they appreciate us is beyond description. In May, when I was at one of the shelters for Spa Night, mom brought her kids with her. The director there mentioned I was the person who made backpacks happen and the boy came over to me and gave me a giant hug. It was the sweetest thing... and then I found out he's 14. Then I about cried because if you know 14 year old boys, they rarely hug their momma's let alone some strange woman they just met...
It is because of children like Cheyenne and Brad that I keep coming back and will continue to pack backpacks every year this Ministry can offer them. And I'm praying God doesn't slow us down one bit.