Volunteers at Wylie (Texas) United Methodist Church pack school kits for UMCOR. Photo: Kathryn Strempke
This article appears in Interpreter Magazine, March/April 2014 edition. The issue is dedicated to the work and ministry of UMCOR.
By Erik Alsgaard
The Rev. Denise Honeycutt and her husband, Pat Watkins, were missionaries in Nigeria in the late 1990s. Based in a small, remote village — “no running water, no electricity, no paved roads,” she said — they were out one hot afternoon when a noise, some singing, something they could not clearly make out, began to rumble through the area.
Suddenly, they could understand. “The kits are coming! The kits are coming!”
A big truck, filled with school kits, health kits and sewing kits, had arrived from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Honeycutt and Watkins had no idea it was coming.
“It was like Christmas,” Honeycutt said. Now deputy general secretary of UMCOR, she said the kits’ arrival meant life would be more joyful for many people.
“All the women in the village had new dresses the next day,” Honeycutt said. “They were so proud!
“I’ve been on the other side of making kits, and praying for those people who are going to receive them,” she said. “But to be there, seeing them distributed, and seeing the difference it made … made me feel proud to be United Methodist.”
At Beach United Methodist Church in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., nearly 10 percent of the congregation is involved in making kits for UMCOR. Each Sunday during Lent, “about a dozen” people gather after church to make school kits, said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Jack King. Retired, King has served the 120-member church for five years. He said that during Easter, the church would start making health kits.
‘Where the rubber hits the road’
“This is a very mission-oriented congregation,” King said. His wife, Joyce, is one of the champions of the cause and helps organize the kit-making activities. However, the whole church is behind the ministry of UMCOR. “We think a lot of UMCOR,” King said. “It’s the place where the rubber hits the road.”
King said Beach Church’s primary purpose is to be in mission. In 2013, the congregation raised $2,600 for Imagine No Malaria. “We really are trying to respond to human need,” he said.
Beach United Methodist, along with other congregations in the New York Conference, will bring health kits to annual conference this June.
The life cycle of a kit varies, according to Kathy Kraiza, executive director of relief supplies at UMCOR Sager Brown Depot, located in Baldwin, La., 110 miles west of New Orleans.
“Getting the materials and supplies to the depot is up to the donors,” said Kraiza. “We don’t have any idea how long the kits have been sitting on shelves prior to them arriving here. And once they arrive here, it depends on the disaster or the need as to how soon the kits move out.”
For example, at the end of 2012, Hurricane Sandy had exhausted the supply of cleaning buckets. A year later, 35,000 cleaning buckets were in stock.
Health kits are the top item sent out by UMCOR, said Kraiza. Any person, at any time and at any age, can use them. Health kits contain one hand towel, one washcloth, one comb, a metal file or nail clipper, a bar of bath-sized soap, one toothbrush, six adhesive bandages, one plastic bag and $1 for depot staff to purchase toothpaste (because toothpaste expires).
Kits make a difference
If that sounds very specific, it is — by design. Instructions for the contents and how to pack each kit are found online at www.umcor.org. A team of volunteers inspects and “verifies” the kits when they enter Sager Brown. This, Kraiza said, is to ensure that the kits are what they say they are, and that no contraband — usually personal notes or prayers — is inserted.
“We have to get a lot of these kits through customs,” Kraiza said. “We also have to keep our recipients in mind, and we don’t want one person getting more, or less, than the other.”
In 2013, UMCOR shipped more than $7 million worth of goods throughout the United States and around the world. Most kits start in local churches, and then end up at one of eight facilities in the relief-supply network. Ninety-five percent of the kits, however, go out from Sager Brown or UMCOR West, located in Salt Lake City.
The Rev. Brian Diggs, director of UMCOR West since its start in 2009, said that at the end of January, a shipment to the Sudan was ready to go. It contained 11,088 school kits, 6,720 health kits and 4,032 birthing kits.
Kits are boxed and placed on a rail car for shipment to Los Angeles, he said. Since each box is the same size, 1,372 will fill an aptly named boxcar. Diggs estimated that the shipment to the Sudan would arrive there, if all goes well, by Easter.
As Honeycutt can testify, based on her experience in Nigeria, these kits make a difference.
“All day long, God is working for good in the world,” said Honeycutt. “God invites us to be a part of that. Through these kits, we partner with God in kingdom work.”
When your congregation is ready to help UMCOR by providing materials for kits, go to http://www.umcor.org/UMCOR/Relief-Supplies/Relief-Supply-Kits for clear instructions on what to put in each kit and how to pack it.
“Instructions are very specific,” said Kathy Kraiza, executive director of UMCOR’s Sager Brown Depot. “Do not add additional items; no personal notes; no extra this or extra that. We verify every kit when it comes in, before it is shipped out. Even small changes can mean a big deal down the line.”
The Rev. Erik Alsgaard is managing editor, UMConnection newspaper, Baltimore-Washington Conference.