Church: Fairmount Avenue UMC
District: Twin Cities
Submitted by: Fairmount Avenue United Methodist Church
by Amanda Willis
Sixty-six. That’s how many beds the downtown Minneapolis Simpson Housing Services overnight shelter has available to the homeless. It’s also the number of blankets that the Fairmount Avenue United Methodist Church youth group collected in less than three weeks for guests of the shelter.
During a mid-September visit to pack sandwich lunches for Simpson guests, the Fairmount Avenue Followers youth group noticed that the shelves where the blankets were kept were nearly empty. Christina Giese, Simpson’s director of volunteer engagement, gave the group a tour and pointed out the barren shelves—noting that the shelter hadn’t been that low on blankets for many years.
John Kelly, a member of the youth group and a sophomore at Highland Senior High in St. Paul, said the empty shelves inspired the group to want to do something before the temperatures dropped.
“Since [the homeless] don’t have anything beyond what they carry on their backs, we thought it would be nice if they had a blanket because it might not have been something they would have thought to take with them,” he said.
The Followers, which usually hovers around 30 active youth, collected the blankets by making announcements in worship and requesting donations from members of the congregation—and by doing a skit about fashion, using blankets, during children’s time.
The family-friendly congregation really responded. Within just a few weeks the youth had reached their goal and were able to deliver the blankets on a return trip in early October.
Donating blankets was a quick and small project for the group to participate in, but the effort demonstrates what a big difference youth can make in their communities and shows how even a basic act of kindness like providing a blankets is a way of sharing God’s love with strangers.
Giese is impressed with the group’s donation.
“It is awesome that youth created and completed this project,” she said. “[It has] shown our shelter guests that people in our community really care.”
Fairmount Avenue has been working with Simpson since 1997. Both youth and adults serve regular meals at the shelter, including on Thanksgiving Day.
The Followers have already decided on another project for Simpson. They are now collecting hygiene items for shelter guests, including trial-sized shampoo, soap, and underwear. They will deliver those items when they return to volunteer on Thanksgiving.
When asked what he got from the experience of collecting donations, Kelly said, “I personally learned that I am good at standing up before people and talking to them—and that I really like to help people.”
The adults in the congregation have taken note of all that the youth have accomplished.
Susan Bergmann, director of children and youth ministries at Fairmount Avenue UMC said the congregation’s youth are responding to God’s call to heal a broken world by providing comfort and warmth to those in need.
“Sometimes churches don’t recognize what kids and teens can do,” she said. “I think it's important that kids have a voice and people hear it.”
Amanda Willis is communications associate for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church