Goodbye Trash Bags, Hello Good News Bags

Date Posted: 4/24/2014

Fretful Fact: When a child leaves the Children’s Protective Services shelter to go to a foster home or ages out of the system, all their worldly possessions are typically put in a trash bag or grocery sack for transport. When members of Bellaire UMC learned of this stark reality, they grabbed sewing machines and began creating “Good News Bags” for them, instead.
When Linda Eckert heard Bellaire UMC (BUMC) Community Service Group leader Barbara Nowotny talk about the realities of children using trash bags for luggage she thought, “How embarrassing and demoralizing it must be for a child, whose life is already
in turmoil, to show up on a new foster family’s
doorstep carrying a trash bag.”
At the time, she admittedly thought “how sad” and went on with her life.  Notes Linda, “Several months later, I read an article in Guideposts about a group of ladies in a church that made clothes bags and donated them to a local shelter.  This time I thought I can do that after I retire and went on with my life. A few weeks later, I attended the church Fall Fun Festival Garage Sale at BUMC and discovered a ‘treasure’ in several lengths of fabric in bright cheerful colors that someone had donated.  God got my attention, everything came together, and I purchased the fabric to make bags.”
In no time Linda made 20 bags from the fabric, each about 20 inches wide and 30 inches long with a drawstring at the top and a ribbon label stitched on the side with the message “Jesus Loves You.”  “When I brought the completed bags to Sunday School for Barbara to deliver to CPS, everyone in the class got excited about the idea.” This February, BUMC held its annual “Have a Heart for Others” dinner and live auction to raise money for missions and community service projects. Thanks to generous –and competitive --bidders in the congregation, the auction raised about $21,000.
Linda’s Sunday School class approached the auction committee with the idea of offering sponsorships for the “Good News Bags”  -- a different concept, since it was not something someone could purchase and take home at the end of the evening. “Barbara held up a garbage bag in one hand while she explained the conditions at the shelter and challenged the attendees to change the garbage bag into a Good News Bag which she then held up.  For each $25 donation to the “Have a Heart for Others” fundraiser, our Sunday School class would donate a bag along with a Bible to the CPS shelter. The response was overwhelming.  We raised $5000, so we had 200 bags to make!”
The bags raised more money than any item in the auction because it was an affordable amount that allowed many to make a contribution and feel that they made a difference.  Notes Linda, “God expanded my limited vision for 20 bags into a commitment for 200 bags!”
To meet the challenge, her class held a Sewing Bee at the church in March. “Our youngest volunteer was a 9-year-old member of the congregation who brought her own sewing machine and helped,” adds Linda. Working together, they made 20 bags in one morning.
Linda admits that God has used the bags to bless her through the encouragement and witness of others. “For example, two friends, who are not members of our church, immediately provided donations of fabric as soon as I told them about the project.  And, they inspired the 24-year old daughter of a neighbor to be a witness in faith.  After she saw the sewing mess on my dining table, I explained what I was doing.  The next morning she came over and told me that, since she had returned home from college two years ago, she had felt like she no longer had a “home church.”  However, she had been looking for a creative use for her tithe.  She had prayed about it overnight and she gave me a $200 check for supplies.  This young lady has school loans, a car loan, is living at home while she saves money for a place of her own; however, she is still faithful in tithing.  What a witness!”
By the end of March, 210 Goods News bags, Bibles and bookmarks were assembled.  The bookmarks contain information about Bellaire United Methodist Church and include a personal invitation from Pastor Jim Flagg to join in worship.  On March 30, Rev. Flagg and the congregation blessed the bags, which Linda felt was important for several reasons:

  1. It is a common practice to bless the “sending forth” of persons to the mission field.  Notes Linda, “I feel that these bags, the Bibles and the bookmarks are our representatives going forth in Jesus’ name to a special mission field in our community.”
  2. “Do I think a clothes bag can change a life?  No, but I know that God can.”
By investing herself in this ministry, Linda was encouraged and spiritually transformed. “When I began making the bags, I selfishly prayed for myself -- that I would have the courage and determination to complete the project.  As time passed, my focus changed and I began praying for each child that would receive the bag as I sewed the “Jesus Loves Me” good news message on the side.  As I made more, I expanded my prayer to the people who work at CPS -- that they would also be impacted by the message and would be reminded that Jesus loves them and the work they do.  As I made more and more bags, my prayer expanded further to include the foster families these children are being placed with.  I prayed for God’s peace and patience in their homes and that they would also be aware that Jesus loves them too.  Just as we could never have imagined the outpouring in response to the need, we cannot imagine the outreach these simple cloth bags may have when they are accompanied by God’s word and blessings.”
Investing in the Young
From the list of initiatives, it’s clear that BUMC’s Community Service Group is passionate about helping kids in the foster care system:
  • Volunteers took stuffed Easter baskets and stuffed stockings to the 24 teenagers living in the CPS shelter on Chimney Rock. According to Barbara, each basket had an Easter message in it reminding them of God’s love for them, along with candy, stuffed eggs, a chocolate bunny and lots of other fun items.
  • This spring BUMC also helped out with a Prom Event by collecting gently-worn prom dresses, evening bags, earrings, and jewelry from the congregation, displayed them so that 50 teens could shop for their prom outfit, pick out shoes, have dance and etiquette lessons, and go to a make-up counter. The guys learned about putting on ties and received a gift card to take their date to dinner. 
Notes Barbara, “The beautiful thing was that these kids got to feel special that day. Thankfully, our congregation is fantastic at supporting these young people. We are gearing up for ‘Foster Grad.’ We pick the names of 40 who are ‘aging out” of the foster care system and graduating from high school, recognizing that, by this time, they may have passed through 8 -12 foster homes and perhaps some shelters. Since they don’t have parents to buy them the necessary items to begin living on their own, our church steps in.  We get the basic staples, like sheets, blankets, pillows, laundry items, and dishes, and we write them graduation notes. We love being the instruments to show them God’s love.”