Assembly 2018

United Methodist Women members Roll Up Their Sleeves for Day of Service Projects in Columbus

United Methodist Women members Roll Up Their Sleeves for Day of Service Projects in Columbus
Janet Jonas (right) and Freedom Scholar Rico prepare a garden bed.

“How y’all doin’?”

That was the rousing greeting that United Methodist Women members along with General Secretary Harriett Olson received from a diverse group seated in the sanctuary of the United Methodist Church for All People as they headed to the church’s Free Store for a pre-Assembly 2018 Ubuntu Day of Service.

“This is both our sanctuary for Sunday morning, and it’s our main hospitality center while folks are coming to shop,” explained Katelin Hansen, a church staffer who is in the early process of becoming a deaconess. “We have worship every day before the Free Store opens, and it's where we build relationships with community. For us, congregational development is community development. Community development is congregational development. They go hand in hand.”

The Free Store, which opened in 1999, is where people can come and shop for gently used clothing and accessories, toys, books and household items at no cost. “There are about 20,000 different people who will shop here this year,” said the Rev. John Edgar, pastor and director of Church and Community Development for All People, the umbrella group formed from the store and church and a United Methodist Women-supported national mission institution. “We teach people that when they shop, they touch free gifts from God. They touch grace. It's not just an idea, it's a lived reality.”

Kim Hairston, the store’s director, gave volunteers a tour of the store and described how deeply its mission touches people. “It’s a blessing to watch our customers come in. Sometimes it may be that one shirt that’ll make them cry because that’s what they needed for a job interview,” she said as her staff nodded in agreement. “In this space today, you will see so many expressions of love.”

She then explained the types of duties that go on at the store before United Methodist Women volunteers broke into groups and began their tasks. Several chose to work in the sorting room where piles of large plastic trash bags filled with donations awaited them. There, items were categorized then folded or hung. Some worked the counter where they greeted customers, checked them out and bagged their selections. And others walked around the store straightening shelves and neatening clothing racks to make them presentable.

The block in which the church and store are located could easily be referred to as “For All People Row.” Next door is Bikes for All People that sells and services bicycles at affordable prices. And across the street is All People’s Fresh Market in a building that was once a drive-through liquor store. Now the large-size coolers that once held beer, wine and Mad Dog 20/20, as Edgar likes to point out, is where people can get fresh produce free of charge five days a week. Meat and bread is also available. According to Edgar, the market “will distribute 2 million pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables this year.”

It’s a few minutes before opening and the market is bustling with activity. Workers are stocking shelves and bins, and sorting fruits and vegetables. Some United Methodist Women volunteers are shucking corn and peeling and cutting fresh papayas into bite-size chunks for sampling. Amid all this, volunteer Mike Premo, in a resounding voice, speaks on the store’s tenet of radical hospitality.

“Radical hospitality is not you're the customer or you're the client. Radical hospitality is you're my neighbor and I'm really happy to spend time with you,” he explains. “Radical hospitality is not I'm here to help, aren't I wonderful. It's I'm here because I'm part of a community where we lift each other up and I get just as much help from them as they do from me. And so, radical hospitality is letting each and every person who walks through the door know that they are welcomed. That they matter, and that they are loved.”

Ubuntu Day of Service gave papaya preparers Barbie Schmenner of Carmel, Indiana and JoAnn Stanford of Fayetteville, North Carolina, some cross-conference bonding time. “I’d heard people talk about the Ubuntu Day for years and say what a worthwhile experience it is, and I decided I wanted to go,” said Schmenner. “And I’m so glad I’ve gotten to meet JoAnn.”

Stanford, a former teacher, is an Ubuntu veteran with experience assembling birthing kits at a past Assembly. She gave the Fresh Market high marks, saying, “I think this is fabulous, making food available to people because so many don't have an income and aren’t able to get it.”

“What we see at Church for All People is a real focus on building relationship first—listening to what the community needs, thinking about the assets already present in the community and responding form that,” said Olson of the church that started from the free thrift store. “The work just continues to generate, and it is so powerful.”

A few blocks away, another group of United Methodist Women were helping youngsters plant a garden at Lincoln Park Elementary, the site for the All People's Freedom School.

“Freedom Schools are rich in history around civil rights and has its roots in the Freedom Summer of 1964,” explained Darlene Scheid, youth development director. “We continue that tradition of social action and community and civic engagement.”

Unlike most Freedom School programs that take place primarily over summer, All People’s Freedom School has 40 weeks of programming, 32 of which take place during the school year, with eight weeks in summer. Freedom Schools are a program of the Children's Defense Fund, whose president, Marian Wright Edelman, spoke to Assembly attendees on Saturday May 19.

“It's a really interesting to be able to partner with a school and help them to leverage their power—to hear what their desires for their students are, and what the parents' desire for the students are, and then help make it happen,” said Scheid. “We're creating this village here that's unique because we're supporting teachers. I always say my job is to make parents’ and teacher's jobs easier.”

A few feet away on a field adjacent to a playground, some United Methodist Women members and schoolchildren use metal grabbers to pick up litter. Others partner with a child and use shovels to till soil to for a circular vegetable garden. In another area on large folding tables, the adults help children plant herb seeds in small biodegradable pots that they’ve decorated with colored markers.

“I love the service that we’re able to show the children, assisting them and teaching them and hopefully giving them some guidance and answers,” said Robbie Moultrie of the Illinois Conference as she helped a young girl named Cece plant her seeds. “It helps us to appreciate what God gives us from the earth.”

Posted or updated: 5/17/2018 12:00:00 AM