Reaching Out with a Servant Ministry Partner: Living Grace School Supplies Drive
by Edith Heller and Bill Pichette

The Outreach Committee was so happy to coordinate a special and safety conscious project with one of our Servant Ministry Partners during the quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Living Grace is a nonprofit whose mission is to support school youth experiencing homelessness in their school efforts. Working under the McKinney-Vento Act, they coordinate with school counselors on behalf of homeless youth to receive equitable services for academics, emotional support, and economic opportunity. For Director and Founder Sheleah Harris, serving these students is a mission of love. 

In addition to this year’s $2,000 Community Outreach Grant, we wanted to sponsor a school supplies and toiletries drive during the summer and have a volunteer packing party. Easy-peasy, right? Just ask parishioners to bring supplies to church, store them in between the drive and the packing party, and then gather volunteers to pack Grace Bags.

COVID-19 hit our plans hard. Our Sunday morning personal promos and recruitment had come to a halt. We decided to press on by communicating via social media, eNews, leaflet, and clergy announcements. Members of the Outreach Committee and parish members volunteered to work following the limited 10:30 services and during our now curbside More Than A Meal (MTAM) event. Many thanks to dozens of people who donated folders, paper, pencils, pens, colored paper, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo and soap. Our storage table was half full. We learned a hard pandemic lesson—many parishioners did not feel safe shopping and delivering to GSL, as most were attending church virtually. Several parishioners had told Father Ollie they would fund any shortage of supplies. We sincerely thank them, as a very large delivery arrived three days prior to the packing party. 

August 15th was Packing Party Day! We’d asked for twelve volunteers to allow for social distancing. Of course more volunteers than our plans allowed asked to pitch in. We arranged items by category on long tables in Trezevant Hall. Ms. Harris gave a few remarks on her personal mission and gratitude for our efforts. Though limited in number, everyone was grinning and so happy to see one another. We picked up a white drawstring Grace Bag and, spaced six feet apart, marched around the tables dropping items inside. Repeat. Smiles. Laughter. Repeat. Smiles. Laughter… With an organized effort and everyone’s cooperation, we safely stuffed 125 bags in an hour! We then packed remaining supplies into large boxes for storage until Living Grace could use them. Our twelve volunteers toasted the project with bottled water and bags of chips. We each made new friends and renewed old friendships.

Though limited, this event showcased exactly how we’re trying to grow our presence. Our relationships with Servant Ministry Partners should be about more than grants, and we can and do support more agencies than our Community Outreach Grant program funding allow. We know you’re out there volunteering and financially supporting our community—let’s expand that effort! We actually were in the process of forming another team to volunteer with one of our partners, but their event was canceled. As we continue to deal with, and begin to recover from, this pandemic, please be aware that many people and every organization that does great things in Memphis is in need of donations and volunteers. The Outreach Committee is striving to become the focal point for resources of all types in our very generous Grace-St. Luke’s community. Jesus, God in the flesh, witnessed individual and community needs. He left us a simple message, a message of love. Love your neighbor. Please join us in these efforts as you are able—email outreach [at] gracestlukes [dot] org to find out more—and help us reach out and spread that message.