Fort Burd United Presbyterian Church in Brownsville, PA, noticed a need for coats and other clothing within the community in the fall of 2013. A year later, a mission the congregation has named “Snacks, Sneakers and Scriptures,” a program that purchases shoes for those in need while also spreading the word of God, was born. The following is a description of the program written by ruling elder Lynne Rankin and the Rev. Katy Yates Brungraber.
It all started with a coat drive in the fall of 2013. Our elders – Eadi Zetty, who encouraged the congregation to gather used coats to give away, and Lynne Rankin, who helps out once a month at the local food bank and was seeing many of our neighbors in need – decided to do “something” in the spring. Our church building happens to be situated within one mile of subsidized housing. In talking with session leaders, the awareness grew that many of these neighborhood children (who normally would receive breakfast at school) would not be getting breakfast during the summer. So, the idea sparked to raise money for snacks and sneakers. The third “s,” for scriptures, was added in 2016. Children have really loved getting Bible stories to take home with their food and brand-new shoes.
Getting the word out about a free gift of “Snacks, Sneakers and Scriptures” is not easy when your target audience may not have cars or computers or smart phones. Volunteers from our congregation hang posters and distribute fliers in post offices, grocery stores, pharmacies, diners, housing project communities and churches regarding this two-week mission.
On the first Saturday, neighbors in need are invited to come to the church to give their shoe measurements. While on site, they receive free healthy snacks donated by local vendors, and at the same time, children can pick out a Bible story book. A favorite story is Jesus Teaches Us Not to Worry, one of the Arch Books series published by Concordia Publishing House.
The next day, on Sunday, we take up a special collection in worship – our congregation of 40 worshipers donates upwards of $1,400 for this outreach effort. We’ve even received contributions from individuals in neighboring congregations. Then, several volunteers go out in search of sales (it’s not hard to get these volunteers). In one afternoon of prayerful shopping, they return with stories of God’s provision… and stories of checkout clerks with raised eyebrows. It’s a great opportunity to tell others about our desire to pass on the blessings God’s given us.
The next Saturday, families return to pick up the free shoes that have been purchased specifically for them. The kids’ expressions of surprise – their pure delight when they see the special shoes they’d hoped for, like the ones that light up or have different characters – make it all worthwhile. One parent said her son wanted to put on his new shoes “right now!” A couple families said they were going to hold off wearing the shoes until the first day of school.
Last year (2016), 56 pairs of shoes were requested; by God’s grace, this year (2017) we were able to purchase 77 pairs of new shoes for over 20 families. We have always been able to meet the need of the shoes for the community. God provides. Even when we learn of a particular need after the event, members of the congregation generously have stepped up to fill the need. We seek to become known as “a blessing church” in the community.
Money left over from the SSS collection is used for school supplies and backpacks for children in need. Over and over we hear, “Please tell your congregation thank you.” As neighbors return for a third or fourth year for shoes, we’re beginning to get to know the children by name, pray with them and invite them to things going on at the church. We’re looking for additional ways to serve the community beyond SSS, collections for school supplies and coats. We’ve heard about a congregation partnering with guidance counselors at school to meet specific needs. To God be the glory.