A small church community in Auburn, New Hampshire is decorating their local park for the holidays. They’re not hanging lights or wreaths. Instead, they are putting up knitted scarves for the homeless.
For a second year, parishioners at Longmeadow Congregational Church, United Church of Christ stitched together more than 400 scarves, hats and mittens to hang on fences, bushes and trees in Veteran’s Memorial Park in Manchester. “I liked the idea that it engaged people beyond just writing a check,” Reverend Ruth Gallot tells Guideposts.org of her church’s initiative.
Gallot’s church is just a short distance away from the park and the members chose to hang the scarves there because Manchester has a large, underserved homeless community. The park is also within walking distance of several lower income communities. “The scarves, all gone within about 24 hours, were a drop in the bucket compared to the need,” she explains. “But if some people were a bit warmer that day, then it was worth it.”
Gallot was inspired by a similar project carried out a year after the Boston Marathon bombing. She read an article on how Old South Church in Boston was trying to gather blue and yellow scarves to give to all the runners participating in the race that year. She invited some of her congregation’s most dedicated knitters to participate, and the church was able to donate 40 scarves to the marathon fund that year.
In 2015, when her church’s mission outreach team was brainstorming a new project for the summer, Gallot brought up the idea of knitting again – this time to help people in her own community during those cold New England winters. She invited members of the church to contribute, created a community Facebook page for the initiative and collected 75 scarves that year.
“I was blessed to be able to engage some women in our church who are not able to get out easy because of illness or age, but whose faith calls them to find a way to serve,” Gallot explains. “This was a wonderful opportunity for them to serve in a way that really makes a difference in the world and it afforded me the opportunity to spend more time with them as their Pastor, delivering yarn, picking up scarves and thanking them for their ministry.”
It was such a hit that this year, church members started asking Gallot how early they could begin knitting items for the winter drive. “There are many people who fall through the cracks, who struggle to make ends meet, sacrificing their own needs for those of their children,” Gallot shares, saying that some people might feel uncomfortable seeking help from local shelters and organizations. “We also know that there are people who are struggling with many other wounds, who just need to feel that someone cares. We left the scarves for anyone who needed them, for whatever reason.”
It’s all part of the church’s mission to serve in whatever way it can, no matter the time of year.
“We believe that it is our call to serve, not just at the holidays, but throughout the year,” Gallot says. “There are a lot of wonderful efforts that happen around the holidays but then, as winter proceeds, food pantry shelves empty. In the summer, giving and serving decline. We do engage in a number of projects during the holidays, but we also seek to serve in those other times, when people are more often forgotten.”
Gallot hopes other church leaders can do what she did: recognize a wonderful idea to help the community and then put their own spin on it.
“We didn’t invent this idea; we just read about it and then asked ‘How can this work for us, in our setting?’ We are a small church in a small town in New Hampshire. Alone, we cannot solve the problem of homelessness and hunger in the world. We are simply called to do what we can, where we are, with what we’ve got.”
She says it’s important to remember ego has no place in giving: “Jesus didn’t stop and ask, ‘Does this person deserve my help?’ He just helped,” she explains.
And the best way for churches to meet the needs of their communities is by listening to their members.
“Start simple,” Gallot says. “Engage people’s gifts, give thanks for any success, and listen to how the Spirit is working through it all and calling you to serve. It can be a small local project like this, it can be something reaching beyond your community, it can be engaging issues of peace and justice in the world; it doesn’t matter, as long as there is a heart for it in your church.”