Church: North UMC
District: Twin Cities
Submitted by: Linda Koelman
Many of us use social media to connect with our friends, but how about if we use it to spur action in our communities? North United Methodist Church in Minneapolis recently did just that.
For quite some time, members of the congregation have been serving hungry residents in their area. On the second Sunday of each month, volunteers from the church provide a meal at River of Life Emergency Shelter, which is open from November to April.
For almost just as long, North UMC Pastor Linda Koelman has posted photos of the meal-serving events on the church’s Facebook page as well as her personal page. After several people commented on what a great idea the serving was and said it sounded like fun, Koelman posted on the North Cook Facebook page, which is geared toward residents and friends of North Minneapolis and focuses on food-related topics. She proposed that the community come together to serve at the shelter.
“I was surprised at how many responses I got and the wide range of people who said immediately, ‘I'm in!’” said Koelman. “They started posting ideas about what to serve and who might want to do what.” She provided numbers, things to avoid, foods guests liked, and information about supplies that were needed. One woman from the community set up an event page for the meal-serving event with a way for people to note what they were bringing. Community members became excited about what they could accomplish, told their friends, and took over the planning.
On March 29, community members of all ages showed up at the shelter to serve. One man who couldn't be there but wanted to support the effort sent appetizers of cream cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped chili peppers, noting that he wanted the dinner to be special and thought the guests should have appetizers.
“We had enough food to feed five times the number of people in the shelter—everyone brought extra ‘just in case’—and we had WAY more people than we needed,” said Koelman.
A 4-year-old boy came with his mom and handed out chocolate chip cookies, she recalls. One of the homeless shelter guests started talking to him and they had a great time. The guest pulled out his wallet and gave his last $2 to the little boy and told him to put it in his piggy bank. On the way home, the little boy asked his mom about homelessness and why people didn’t have places to live, and he told her he wanted to do more to help them.
For the most part, the people who came were not members of North—they were members of the community who wanted to help neighbors in need. No one in the group knew everyone else who showed up to serve. “Thus it brought together community people who have ‘talked’ to each other on Facebook and helped forge new friendships,” said Koelman.
The volunteers plan to serve together again and hope to do so at least three times next season.
North UMC illustrates what is possible with a few simple clicks of the mouse and a strong commitment to outreach. While serving as the hands and feet of Christ and living out God’s call to heal a broken world, the church is also reaching new people and serving as a catalyst for positive change in its mission field.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church