Coat drive strengthens connection between Stony Brook Church and community
by Connie Faber
This fall when Stony Brook Church in Omaha, Neb., threw the proverbial stone in the pond, they hoped the ripples would include new opportunities to minister in their neighborhood. The stone was school supplies; the pond was a neighborhood elementary school. And the first ripple reached SBC during an early December cold snap.
Stony Brook Church (SBC) is located in Millard, one of Omaha’s older suburbs with a mix of middle and lower-middle class families. For the last two years the congregation has been striving to be a positive presence in the community. They have hosted Halloween trunk-or-treat events with games and refreshments and have organized “Dump Runs,” designated days on which people of the congregation pick up junk left at the curb by residents and transport the rubbish to the landfill.
New community connections were forged late this summer when a SBC Life Group provided school supplies for neighborhood elementary students. SBC’s Life Groups are comprised of 8 to 12 people who meet regularly to talk, learn, share, grow and serve together. The idea of collecting school supplies was initially brought to one of the Life Groups by Melissa Hanna, who was recruited by coworker Rita Sparvel last spring to join Sparvel in purchasing deeply discounted school supplies at the discount department store where they both work. By the time school started, the two women had all kinds of things stored up.
That’s when Hanna enlisted the help of her SBC Life Group. Hanna’s Life Group supported the women’s vision of supplying needy children with school supplies and put together a combination of about 80 backpacks filled with school supplies and lunch boxes. Sparvel joined the Life Group as they worked on the project and continues to be part of the Life Group when she is able.
The filled backpacks and lunch boxes went to Norman Rockwell Elementary School (NRES), where school personnel distributed the supplies based on the needs of the students.
“This particular school has one of the highest percentages of underserved families in our area,” says SBC discipleship pastor Stephen Humber, “so the school supplies were very much appreciated by the children and their parents. So much so, that we received almost 50 handwritten—and colored—thank you cards from the children. They are precious!”
In the process of coordinating the project, the Life Group worked with the school secretary and school counselor. Humber hoped these connections would help the congregation learn of other needs that they could meet.
“The school is very happy to have the connection, and that Life Group—and potentially now our whole church family—is excited about the opportunities that may arise for us to serve,” said Humber in a November email interview.
“Our intention is to watch and listen for needs that (the school) has that we could meet,” he said. “Responding to needs that they actually have feels more personal and like a better kind of service.”
A very keen need came to the congregation’s attention Thursday, December 5, when a phone call from Stony Brook to the school counselor revealed that children were walking to school in single-digit temperatures without coats, hats and gloves. SBC pastor Chad Stoner immediately sent out an email to the entire church family with the subject line “IMMEDIATE opportunity!!!” The email asked the congregation to bring gently used winter coats and unisex hats and gloves to a donation container at the church by the following morning.
Within 24 hours, the Stony Brook family’s “crazy generous” response netted 26 coats, 55 hats, 57 pairs of gloves, one scarf and one pair of the “cutest tiny pink boots ever.” Most of the donations were made within the first 10 hours.
The congregation continued collecting coats and other outerwear through Sunday, Dec. 8. All donations would find their way to a child, Stoner assured the SBC congregation in a follow-up email. The area schools share resources in times of need, so donations to Rockwell could make their way to schools and households throughout the Millard suburb.
The ripples created by SBC’s desire to serve its community are evident in an email Stoner received from the Rockwell counselor the same day the winter coats were delivered. “Just today I had two social workers looking for coats for families, so the timing was fabulous,” she writes. “We are so grateful for your generosity, and there will certainly be cozy kids. One little girl wrapper herself up in the coat and snuggled in with a huge smile and an even bigger sigh. She said, ‘I’m toasty just thinking about this!’”