On Dec. 17, I still had Christmas shopping to do. I had gifts to buy, stocking stuffers to purchase and more than 40 purses in my basement that were filled for homeless women, but needed finishing touches and gift bags.
Let’s back up a few months. Back in September, when I was attending MOMCon in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I heard many women talking about the outreach their MOPS and MOMSnext groups had done. One went into prisons, another connected with a MOPS group out of the country, another started a MOPS group in a public school. The goal: To reach moms where they were.
I wanted to reach moms too so I started brainstorming. I remembered last year that a local organization collected purses filled with items for needy women. I liked that project a lot, but I knew that it was overrun the year before. Those who dropped off purses said they were met with “yay…more purses” rather than “YAY! MORE PURSES!” I was afraid they wouldn’t reach the right audience.
Our church hosts MCREST once a year. MCREST is the Macomb Country Rotating Emergency Shelter Team. Basically churches in the area volunteer to keep a group of up to 60 homeless men, women and families for a week. The church members work together to provide meals, hospitality services and provide for the needs of the MCREST guests.
I’ve volunteered for MCREST for years. My previous church only housed men, but our current church takes men, women and families. They stay at our church over the week of Christmas. The guests bring all of their belongings in bags, sometimes even trash bags. They sleep on mattresses on the floor in the church. They have nothing.
I got to thinking about the moms. I’m a mom. If I had even a little bit, it would go to my children. I would do anything to make their holidays merry and bright. If I had no money and no home, I bet that would be a lot harder. I’m sure these moms get nothing for themselves. And they deserve a Christmas too.
The congregation provides all of the guests with a backpack on Christmas morning, filled with items like toothbrushes and socks. I started wondering if we could give the moms their goodies in a purse. New and gently used purses might make them smile. And if we could fill them, not just with the necessities but with things like nail polish and lotions, well, it might just remind them that they are more than their hardship.
They are women. They are moms. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are loved.
Then I wanted to take it one step further. I wanted to offer a program for the moms—a small break for them. So, I organized Coloring and Conversation, a one-hour program for all the MCREST women staying at my church. We brought coloring books, crayons, markers, colored pencils, treats and drinks to the women’s dorm one evening during their stay. We also brought some designated high school students to take their children for that hour. And they could sit, color, relax and conversate with us. I mean, we know what it means to be women and moms. Just because our financial situations might be a little bit different doesn’t mean we don’t face the same challenges.
I had no idea how this was all going to work, I just knew I wanted to do it. Asking my husband to fund it wasn’t an option. Our MOMSnext group is so small that we may have been able to do a fraction, but nothing like what I was envisioning in my head.
Someone in my MOMSnext group suggested to team up with the MOPS group also run out of our church. That group was already planning to put purses together for the same program that collected them last year. Maybe we could collect stuff, they could pack the purses and we could all be in this together. Thankfully, their coordinator said yes!
We collected things like jewelry, lotion, make-up, nail polish, socks, candy, pens and notepads. Of course we also collected new and gently used purses. It all began to come together.
Then I remembered about Thrivent Action Teams. I’ve used one in the past to bring Bible journaling to our MOMSnext group. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to apply for another grant. Thrivent, a financial company, provides its customers with two annual $250 grants to be used as seed money for outreach programs. All the members have to do is apply. Within just a few days, I had my approval and a $250 VISA gift card to help it all shape up perfectly.
The MOPS moms packed more than 50 purses. Knowing we would only need 30 at most, I set those we would need aside. The rest were given to the home office of MCREST, which will distribute them to women and moms who come in and need something like that.
So what did I do with the seed money?
- I purchased $112 worth of items at the Dollar Store. I got 45 gift bags and tissue paper to make sure that each purse was wrapped. I also used the money to buy extra pens, socks, deodorant, make-up, hair brushes, pens, notebooks and other useful things that a woman/mom could use.
- I bought several adult coloring books from 5 Below, along with some markers, colored pencils and crayons for the Coloring and Conversation evening.
- I picked up apple turnovers, cookies, a fruit platter, hot chocolate, bottled water and napkins to share with the women that evening.
How it all came together
On the evening of the Coloring and Conversation event, several of the MOMSnext moms joined me in the women’s dorm to meet with the homeless women. We set up the food and put out the coloring supplies and prayed God would do the rest. We invited all of the women. While this was a MOPS/MOMSnext event, we couldn’t very well segregate the women. We wanted to include everyone.
And they came.
Almost all of the 20 women who were in the shelter than evening came and sat at the tables. I set up two 8-foot tables figuring we’d get a few guests, but I had to set up three additional tables, open up extra sets of coloring supplies and we ran out of food.
After the women had been coloring for a while, I stood up, told them about MOPS and MOMnext, as well as MOPS International. I wanted them to understand what we did, that other churches have groups like this and any of these groups would be happy to have them.
I told them that our prayer for them this year was that they find hope. Then I played the video from MOMCon about hope. I’m not sure how many paid attention or cared, but if it reached just one, it was worth it.
When the video was done, I told them that a lot of the time, women are the givers. We give our time, our money, our energy and our everything–because that’s what we do. I said I’m blessed because, especially this time of year, my mom makes sure that I know I’m special too. She takes my kids out to buy me Christmas gifts, she reminds me to slow down and feel the love and she’s there for me. I told them that we wanted to do that for them, so our MOPS moms and MOMSnext moms had collected items and packed purses for them to show them that they are special too.
I then had the opportunity to hand these purses to the women.
One at a time, I (along with the other MOPS/MOMSnext moms who were there) got to hand each of these unsuspecting women a bag. They were elated. They were thankful. They were surprised.
And I was blessed.
I was blessed to witness this. I was blessed to be the one to be a part of this. The only thing I can pray is that next year, more MOPS and MOMSnext moms are there with me to color and converse with these women—to share the hope we have in Jesus, just through giving of our time.
It was a great way to spend the week leading up to Christmas. I have never felt more thankful for the things that I have and the ability I have to share it. I am thankful for all of the moms in our groups. I’m thankful for everyone who joined us. I’m beyond grateful for Thrivent, who made this more than just a dream in my head, but a dream come true.