Category Archives: Service Projects

Responding to Disaster

The last couple weeks have been heavy, with constant news stories of hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires ravaging parts of the world. Countless lives have been altered by these natural disasters, and millions are in need of emergency aid. So for those of us not directly affected by the crises, what can we do to help?

Of course, the first thing I’m going to suggest is prayer. We serve an all-powerful God. He is not surprised by these disasters. He cares deeply, and his heart is broken for those who are suffering. He welcomes a dialog with us about our needs and our feelings. Prayer changes things, and it changes us. Spend some time talking to God about these crises and the many people who are in need of a miracle right now.

Secondly, don’t start sending boxes of junk to the disaster areas. Every time a catastrophe like this happens, people gather boxes of useless junk and ship them off to the disaster area. Their hearts are in the right place, but overwhelmed locals end up with warehouses full of stuff that needs to be sorted and cleaned before it can be distributed, and they have to dispose of landfills full of stuff that no one needs. You would be better off holding a garage sale and sending your profits to a reputable non-profit organization.

The best thing you can do (other than praying), is to give to a reputable non-profit organization providing disaster relief in the area. They have trained, dedicated staff who deliver things like clean water, medical supplies, and food where it’s needed most. Be careful when you select your non-profit. Some of the big guys that get a lot of publicity have tremendously high overhead, and only a fraction of your donation ever makes it to the disaster victims. Use a website like Charity Navigator or GuideStar to help you find an organization that keeps their overhead low and uses best practices of accountability.

Finally, think local. If you have friends or family members dealing with the tragedy, ask them what they need. I was surprised last week to find out that in the wake of Hurricane Harvey there is a need for bug spray in parts of Texas. I never would have thought of that. They are far enough into the cleanup effort that most of them are getting mail service again, so Amazon can get supplies to your loved ones in just a couple days.

And on the topic of thinking locally, don’t forget the small charities and churches local to the area in crisis. Donating funds to local churches or local food banks will put your dollars to work in the local community quickly.

Some links:

GuideStar

Charity Navigator

Convoy of Hope – Convoy is my charity of choice for giving to the hurricane relief effort. I’ve blogged about them before. Check out my previous posts here and here.

Food Bank Locator

The Value of a Volunteer

Happy Friday! It’s extra happy for me, because tonight Jacob comes home from Puerto Rico. Never mind the fact that tomorrow morning he leaves for Scout camp; I don’t want to think about that right now. Thanks to modern technology, his absence hasn’t been too hard for me. We’ve texted back and forth each day, and the adults on the trip have been posting pictures to the team Facebook page. It looks like the trip has been a nice combination of work, relationship building, and fun. I can’t wait to hear all the details tonight!

As you may know, I work at a history museum. Although different from hunger-relief orgs, our small educational non-profit faces some of the same challenges – things like fundraising, fulfilling our mission on a tight budget, and doing it all with a tiny (and mostly part-time) staff. I know for a fact that the key to meeting our objectives in a quality way is our other staff – the volunteers.

If you assume that a small non-profit would pay about $10 per hour for help (that number is low, I know. Many of our volunteers are worth far more than that. But it’s a nice round number for this math-phobe, and it makes the point without any chance of exaggerating), then even our most occasional event volunteer is saving us hundreds of dollars per year. Our top volunteer at the museum worked over 400 hours last year – that’s more than $4000 in free labor. But you and I both know that without these volunteers we wouldn’t be spending that much more money – we would be getting a lot less done.

A couple weeks ago, my family and I participated in Feed My Starving Children’s Love Somalia mobile pack event in St Paul. During the four days of packing, volunteers assembled 4.5 million meals. Volunteers. If FMSC had to replace the volunteers with packing machines, they would also have to add staff to maintain and supervise the machines. They would have to work harder to raise awareness and funds. They couldn’t hold special events where 4.5 million EXTRA meals are packed in a weekend.

I found some statistics from the Bureau of Labor that show you just how powerful volunteers are in America. From September 2015-September 2016, 62.6 million Americans volunteered at least once with a non-profit organization. The median number of volunteer hours each person gave was 54 hours per year. The biggest recipient of volunteer labor was religious non-profits. This makes sense, right? If you’re a member of a church, you’re probably doing some kind of volunteer service there – teaching Sunday school, greeting visitors, serving in the kitchen during weddings and funerals, etc. Educational and youth-services non-profits came in second. If you have kids or grandkids in school, it’s hard to avoid the pleas for PTO members, fundraiser parents, and classroom volunteers.

One statistic I found stated that in 2013, Americans volunteered more than 7.7 billion hours. BILLION! If we multiply that by our paltry sum of $10/hour, that’s over $77 billion dollars in free labor given to help others learn, grow in faith, or meet their physical needs!

If you volunteer, and you’re feeling discouraged and wondering if your service is doing any good, think about that number. You are part of something HUGE – something that runs our schools, museums, art institutions, churches, food shelves, homeless shelters, job programs, and many more vital places! If you believe in their mission, make a difference with your time!

What is your favorite place to volunteer? Join the discussion by posting in the comments!

Light it up!

Matthew 5:13-16 – You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Last weekend my family and I packed meals for Feed My Starving Children‘s #LoveSomalia mobile pack event here in the Twin Cities. Our first shift was on Sunday, so of course I came down with a migraine that afternoon. Some prescription meds and a nap later, I called on my faithful prayer warrior friends to pray that I would have “a supernatural burst of health and energy” for the event. God answered our prayers, and a burst of health and energy is exactly what I got! By the time the introduction/training portion of the event was done, I felt great. And as we developed a rhythm on the packing floor (I run a sealer and Jacob is a pro boxing coordinator/table lead. Scott usually helps in the warehouse, but for this event he stayed with the fam and scooped the vitamins and veggies), I was having a lot of fun! Jacob and I had a rhythm going. As I finished sealing a bag, I tested the seal then flipped it into the air, and he would reach out and snatch it up and put it in the right place. (We were very careful. I never threw them high enough to damage a bag if he didn’t catch it, and I tossed them over the sorting table so they didn’t hit the floor. One actually missed the table and landed right in the box!) We laughed, we sang along with the music playing in the arena, and even danced a little (or what passes for “dancing” in our family…) I physically worked to pack meals for about two hours, yet I left with more energy than I had going in! When Scott and I talked about it later, the only way I could explain that energy and why I keep signing up for events like that was to say that it “lights me up.”

Do you know the feeling of being lit up? Maybe you LOVE babies, kids, or teens, and spending time with them gives you that burst. Maybe you’re an actor, musician, comedian, or public speaker, and you feel the thrill of the live audience. Maybe creating artwork, playing a sport, or writing your novel gets you too excited to sleep. I’ll bet that there is something in your life that energizes you in spite of the calories it burns. This is passion. This is what you were put on this earth to do.

That may leave some of you baffled, or even insulted. The first time I heard a sermon on giftings and passion, I was hurt. I remember sitting in church and praying, “God, I make good cookies. What are you going to do with that?” I didn’t see my passion for food as something God could or would use. My “spiritual gifts” test always came out as “helps” which means pitching in where needed. So my passion was food and my gifting was pitching in. I thought that was pathetic. I thought it relegated me to bake sales and funeral lunches. But I wanted to make a difference in the world!

It took time for me to mature and for my interests and giftings to come together into something I could think of as a calling. Now here I am: writing, sometimes raising funds, and volunteering to my heart’s content for the cause of global hunger relief. I believe that when I asked God what He could do with my talent for making cookies, He had a fatherly chuckle and said, “Watch me.” Your talent may seem small, or like something that doesn’t coincide with spreading the gospel or changing the world, but God doesn’t make mistakes. He gave you your gifts and personality because He needed just that you in just the life He gave you. Let your light shine!

Famine in the Horn of Africa

Back in 2011, there was a famine in the Horn of Africa. The famine killed thousands and disrupted systems in ways that have not yet been fully overcome. And now the region is facing famine once again. A famine is an extreme, widespread scarcity of food. Famines are usually caused by wars or environmental conditions that prohibit the growth of grass and crops, resulting in the death of livestock and eventually people. The famine that Eastern Africa is facing right now is caused by a drought that is killing off the vegetation and plant life.

The Horn of Africa is a peninsular region on the far eastern side of the continent, and includes the nations of Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. The famine right now is particularly bad in Somalia, a nation of 10.8 million people on the eastern edge of the Horn of Africa. In the north, Somalia is just over 20 miles from Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, so the culture is influenced by both East Africa and the Middle East. The environment is hot, and rainfall is normally irregular, though right now it’s pretty much nonexistent.

According to UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), nearly 1.4 million children in Somalia are expected to be acutely malnourished this year. Obviously one can die from starvation, but malnourishment can also cause stunted growth, physical and mental impairment, and decreased immunities that leave children susceptible to life-threatening illnesses. Famine also causes people to leave their homes in an effort to find a better situation. This migration upsets education and tears families apart.

This situation is devastating and heartbreaking. Famine isn’t caused by laziness or bad choices, it’s just plain bad luck. And try as we might, we can’t bring back the rain. So while opportunities like education and access to capital are usually the best solution for poverty and hunger, in a situation like this people need an emergency handout to bridge the crisis period. Many of the world’s hunger relief organizations are on the case, arriving with food, water, and medical care to see people through this crisis. But the need is huge. UNICEF estimates 1.4 million children will be affected by acute malnutrition this year, but the adults who care for them will face the same challenges, so the actual number affected is probably double that.

There are three things that we can do from here to support Somalis during this crisis:

  1. Pray – Pray for rain to return to the Horn of Africa. Pray for those who are suffering. Pray for the missionaries and non-profits working to bring relief. Pray that donors and volunteers would step up the challenge.
  2. Give – Non-profit organizations have carefully fundraised budgets and planned programs to manage around the world. This crisis is an additional burden on their organizations. I’ve signed up to raise donations for Feed My Starving Children’s Somalia initiative this summer, and you can make a gift or learn more about that here.
  3. Volunteer – No, I’m not suggesting you fly to Somalia. In fact, I would discourage it. They don’t need more mouths to feed right now! But there are things we can do from here. Research organizations working in the country, and help them raise money. Use your social media following to raise awareness of the problem and the organizations working in the region. Some organizations even have ways that you can help hands-on. Here in the Twin Cities, FMSC is having a special packing weekend June 2-5 at the RiverCentre in St Paul to provide for this extra demand on their resources. I’ll be there packing on Sunday evening and Monday afternoon that week. If you’re in the area and would like to sign up to help, you can find that information here.

This draught and famine will eventually pass, but how many lives will be lost in the meantime? Do what you can, starting, and ending, with prayer!

If you know of other organizations working in the area, or other things that we can do to help, please leave a comment!

 

Service Project Playlist 2017

A few years ago, when Food Shelf Friday was new, I did a fun post about songs I like to listen to during service projects. The list was a bit small, and today I was thinking of more great tunes to energize and inspire while serving others, so I decided to brush it up and bring it back. Enjoy!

1. “Do Something” by Mathew West: I love the opening part when he’s complaining about all the trouble in the world and he says, “God, why don’t you do something?” God’s answer? “I did. I created YOU!” It’s an awesome reminder that God put us on this earth to be a blessing to others!

2. “Hands and Feet” by Audio Adrenaline: An oldie, but a goodie (2001, but I could swear it’s A LOT older). Audio A still appeals to this recovering grunge gen-Xer.

3. “Kings and Queens” by Audio Adrenaline: (not the original or newest version of the band, but the brief period when Kevin Max Smith from DC Talk was the frontman). This song is powerful, both lyrically and in presentation. The music video is fun too. It has the band and some Haitian kids having a snowball fight of sorts with color war powder.

4. “Shine” by the Newsboys: Another ’90s classic! It’s upbeat and joyful, and it talks about being a witness by the life-changing joy that springs from your relationship with God.

5. “Wherever We Go” by the Newsboys: Another great upbeat song about the joy and power of knowing the Lord. It’s ok to have fun as you serve the Lord and others!

6. “Give me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath: Nothing inspires compassion like seeing the world through Jesus’s eyes. I don’t know about you, but I often miss opportunities to help others because I don’t think of it until it’s too late. So this song is like my prayer that I would see things how Jesus sees them: to notice needs and be moved to help.

7. “Fix my Eyes” by For King and Country: This is one of my favorite songs. It’s upbeat and powerful. The chorus lists wonderful acts of service that we all know we should be doing if we’re actively living out faith the way Jesus taught, and then it closes with the clincher, “…above it all – Fix my eyes on YOU!” I love that reminder; it’s easy to burn out trying to be good or do good things when you take your eyes off God and see only the world’s troubles.

8. “Evidence” by Citizen Way: I love the message of this song! “It’s not a flag on a field, not a sign in my yard. Not a cause that I join, not a phrase on a coin, it’s the change in my heart…” Love, acted out, is the true evidence of what we believe.

9. “What are You Waiting For” by Natalie Grant: Sometimes helping others is hard, and affecting real change can feel practically hopeless. But you do have the power to make a difference, so what are you waiting for?

10. “Live it Well” by Switchfoot: This is a new song, and a current favorite of mine. It’s a great anthem about the drive to make your life count and make a positive impact on the world. My favorite part is the bridge, where they sing, “I got one life and one love. I got one voice, but maybe that’s enough. ‘Cause with one heartbeat and two hands to give, I got one shot and one life to live.”

All of these songs can be found on iTunes, Spotify, or YouTube, so check it out! If you have additional ideas, share them in the comments!