infant care kits
Photo provided by Mary Miller

Grandchildren of John and Mary Miller put together MCC kits during the family's Thanksgiving celebration in Dalton, Ohio. (Left to right) Mae Miller (10), Joy Miller (12), Olivia Emig (10), Eva Emig (5) and Elsie Miller (8) put together 15 infant care kits with their families.

For families across the Great Lakes region, assembling MCC kits is one way they can work together while also helping others in need.

Sara Wengerd and her two grandchildren, Caroline and Nathan Friesen, have volunteered at the Material Resource Center in Goshen for the past four years. Nathan and Caroline live in Chicago and do not attend a Mennonite church, so Wengerd wanted them to know about MCC. Now when they visit their grandmother in Goshen for a week each summer, one of the essential activities to do together is assembling MCC school kits.

“They try to do more kits each year,” said Wengerd. In 2014 they processed 101 school kits to beat their goal of completing over 100. “We enjoy working together for a good cause, and we talk about the children who may receive the bags,” added Wengerd.

Intergenerational Church Groups

Locust Grove Mennonite Church in Burr Oak, Mich., is one of the churches that brings intergenerational groups to volunteer at the Goshen Material Resource Center.

According to Cheryl Mast, Mission Commission Chair, this service project provides an opportunity for church attenders to relate to people across all different ages that they might not get the chance to connect with on a regular basis. The group ranges in age from children as young as two years old to young adults and college students to retired folks in their 80s.

“Parents value passing along the importance of a service ethic to their children,” said Mast. “Don’t tell me that children are too young to serve. They can do things like sort pencils and put stickers on notebooks…things that are meaningful to them. And they don’t mess around. They take it very seriously.”

taping pencils

The children themselves have learned a lot about what it means to help others. “I like helping kids at The Depot [Material Resource Center] and anything I can do to help,” said Cecelia Franz, 12. “I like this because I know that even if I do something small I know it will make a difference.”

“I like to know that I’m helping people,” said Caleb Lederman, 7. “My favorite part was packing the pencils.”

Salem Mennonite Church of Kidron, Ohio, does a similar project at the MCC Connections Material Resource Center in Kidron. As part of their weekly Wednesday evening church service project they have brought intergenerational groups on several occasions to volunteer. One of the highlights for the children is taping pencils to go in the school kits.

Birthdays

For some children, assembling kits has become a family way of life. Ben Parker, son of MCC Great Lakes staff member Krista Dutt and her husband Jim Parker, put together MCC school kits at his three-year-old birthday party in Chicago. “Since Ben is so excited about school and since we didn’t need anything for him, toys or otherwise, we invited people if they really wanted to bring something to bring school kit supplies,” said Dutt.

Then Ben and one of his friends put together the school kits with the donated supplies and others they purchased. “The two toddlers loved it,” said Dutt. “I wish we had made a couple more in terms of their excitement.”

Holidays

Holidays also provide a good opportunity for family members of all ages to work together. Rather than focusing on gifts, some families have chosen to put together various kits when they get together for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

John and Mary Miller from Dalton, Ohio, have started a new tradition with their three children, spouses and 11 grandchildren when they get together over Thanksgiving. A couple of years ago, one of their grandchildren was moved to tears by seeing panhandlers on the street where she lives in Holland, Mich. This prompted the family to find a way to make a difference in the lives of people in need, all while enjoying family time together. Two years ago they performed a funny fashion show for family members who then donated money to purchase supplies for a homeless shelter in Holland.

This past Thanksgiving, the family thought it would be fun to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Sound of Music. They made simple costumes from old curtains and the kids performed songs from the musical. Their “performance” raised enough money for them to purchase supplies for about 15 MCC infant care kits, which the children assembled together at John and Mary’s home.

“We wanted to do something fun and make memories together while raising money for a good cause,” said Mary. “It’s important to us to teach our grandchildren to help people by giving to an organization you know will use the money or materials well.”

Barry and Brenda Hummel, from Berlin, Ohio, have created a similar tradition when they gather with their children and grandchildren, 18 in total, to celebrate Christmas. After spending time together with food, gifts, games and laughter, they gather the grandchildren and bring out supplies to put together MCC hygiene kits.

“We talk about how blessed we are and how much fun we’ve had together, but that there are children around the world who didn’t have a toothbrush this morning to brush their teeth,” said Brenda. “God has been gracious to us, and we want to help others as well.”

The grandchildren, ranging in age from one to 12 years old, each put together a hygiene kit. Sometimes they do it as part of a scavenger hunt or take the bags around the room to gather supplies from the adults.

For Barry and Brenda, who served with MCC in Akron, Pa., after they were first married, it’s essential to show their grandchildren the importance of giving back. “We share our story not to pat us on the back, but to pass on the legacy of giving to our grandchildren and perhaps give other grandparents an idea to do the same,” said Brenda.

Education

Not only are families spending quality time putting together the kits, but children and adults alike are learning about the people who will be on the receiving end of the kits. According to Nadine Zook Miller, Material Resources Coordinator in Goshen, and Virgil Troyer, Material Resources Director in Kidron, education is an important aspect of volunteering. While it’s fun for volunteers to try to see how fast they can pack kits, Troyer and Zook Miller try to help them remember the faces and stories of people who will benefit from them.

Troyer will often share from his international experiences with MCC serving as regional disaster management coordinator. “When I can share a first-hand story from when we were in Honduras or Haiti, it connects with people and personalizes it,” he said. “When we have a shipment all packed in boxes or buckets and shrink-wrapped and ready to go, it’s powerful to say that the next person to open this box or bucket will be the person receiving it.” Many groups will also give a prayer of blessing over the kits at the end of their volunteer time.

Zook Miller will often show short videos or photos to help volunteers, especially children, visualize who might receive the kits they put together. “Understanding where the kits end up is important for those assembling them,” she said. “The pictures and information helps us all see what folks have to deal with all over the world. It gives a context for why we do what we do here at the material resource centers.”

For more information about putting together kits or volunteering at a material resource center, visit mcc.org/kits.