March 11, 2020: that was the last time a volunteer group came to the MCC Central States Material Resources Center (MRC) in North Newton, Kansas, to serve for the day. It felt like a normal Wednesday: sewing machines humming, conversations about gardens and grandchildren floating around, coffee pot working overtime, welcoming hugs, sewing project show-and-tell, the “beep-beep-beep” of the reversing forklift faintly in the background. No one was yet talking about physical distancing, sewing facemasks or contact tracing. I was scheduled to go on vacation the following day, so my mind was anywhere but the fact that this could be the last time that our beloved “Wednesday group” would be interacting in this way.
Things have changed for all of us since March 2020, including here at the North Newton MRC. We have gone from having no volunteers in the workroom (and focusing on take-home projects only), to allowing two groups per week, and then back to no volunteers at all again. We are constantly monitoring case numbers, infection rates and state guidelines, while also staying in contact with our volunteers, who have been so patient with ever-changing rules. I miss the routine, the warmth and the energy of the pre-pandemic MRC, but this is a time for adjusting, creative problem solving and keeping each other safe.
MCC photo/Kate Mast
The work of MCC goes on, even during an unprecedented global pandemic. People still need their basic needs met, disasters like war, flooding and drought continue, oppression deepens, vulnerable populations experience increased exposure to harm. The need for material resources—the canned meat, comforters, hygiene kits, relief kits and more that are checked and assembled by volunteers in our MRC—is still there, if not increased. What does it look like to continue fulfilling partner requests for assistance when the physical space that has housed these activities is not open to the public? It looks like dedicated volunteers finding new and creative ways to carry on these essential ministries, volunteers like:
- Liz, dutifully stringing school kit bags on her couch every night before bed.
- Kara, turning her basement into her own “MCC Workroom,” using boxes of fabric scraps to create stunning comforter tops, all while trying to keep her three elementary aged children on task.
MCC photo/Kara Klingenberg
- Rick and Doug, building sturdy shelves that will store comforters.
- Nancy, sending out group texts to members of the Wednesday Group so we can check in and keep updated on our personal lives, prayer requests and sewing projects.
- Gary and Gladys, stopping by every week to take home school kits to check and comforters to bind.
- Carlos, a participant in MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP), who came to the MRC every day during the pandemic until the end of his term to bale clothes for recycling, headphones on and music blaring.
- Shirley, disinfecting and lugging home the fabric cutting machine from the workroom so she can cut thousands of five-inch squares for others to sew together.
MCC photo/Kate Mast
The essential work of meeting basic human needs through material resources has gone on throughout the pandemic, thanks to the dedication and commitment of MCC’s volunteers. In this centennial year, where nothing looks like what we thought it would, there are still sounds of sewing machines humming—only now, the hum comes from people’s basements, kitchens and home offices. The sew must go on!
Interested in sewing your own comforter at home? Learn more about our 'Comforter Blitz at Home' event, happening during the month of February as part of the Great Winter Warm-up.
Kaitlyn Mast is workroom supervisor at the MCC Central States Material Resource Center in North Newton, Kansas.