Two years ago, a new ministry began in Vernal, called the Community of Unity in Christ, an ecumenical effort that holds one large service project a year. This year’s project we decided to do something for children being taken into foster care. Participating churches were the LDS church, St. Paul’s Episcopal, Kingsbury UCC, St. James Roman Catholic, Redeeming Grace, and the 7th day Adventist church. Participants are so committed that, with the pro bono help of local attorney, Mike Harrington, they formed a non-profit entity under the umbrella of the Charitable Friends of Ashley Valley.
We considered that many children entering foster care are provided a garbage sack to collect their belongings before leaving home. This is a heart-breaking symbol for what is happening in the children’s lives and so the community decided to hand-make laundry bags for the children’s belongings and to provide a backpack filled with comfort, hygiene and entertainment items. In coordination with the local social services, the group set a goal of 900 hand-made laundry bags and purchased string backpacks.
Throughout the months meetings were held at St. Paul’s. First, the group collected fabric from quilters around town, then one family, Danette and Jeff Gerrard from Just Serve, cut out all the fabric and drawstrings and made kits for others to sew. Those were distributed to sewists around town, including the senior center, to construct the bags. Word got out by church announcements, social media, and a poster hung around town which was also shown during the previews at the (only) movie theater. There was a special prize offered to all who donated: an entry to win a fancy dinner at St. Paul’s parish house in July. A wish list of items for toddlers to teens was posted, and donations to fill the 900 backpacks started to flow in. Dentists in town contributed toothbrushes and toothpaste, the medical center donated the string backpacks, and individuals and businesses filled out the requests. There was also a collection of sensory toys for children with special needs. Individuals stored items at their homes, and the corners of the classrooms at St. Paul’s began to fill with donations. This phase ended with a sorting party, and one individual, Rojean Bassett a member of the LDS church who often attends St. Paul’s as a visitor, wrote individual thank you notes.
To complete the project, the group hosted a 5K in which participants started with empty backpacks and stopped at the participating churches to fill the packs with age-appropriate items. Three 4-H Pageant Girls competing for Miss Uintah County’s Outstanding Teen helped at each stop. At the end of the route, the recipients collected the bags. Those receiving the bags included the Women’s Domestic Violence Shelter (50), the Children’s Justice Center (100), Vernal DCFS (250), Roosevelt DCFS (50), Ute Tribe (100), Central Cove School (250), and Head Start (50).
The names of all who had donated to the event were compiled, and one name was drawn to win a very special evening for eight at St. Paul’s historic parish house. For the evening, St. Paul’s musician and Sr. Warden, Marie Smith, put together a band for live music as well as setting a stunning table with fresh flowers and many other decorations to dress up the architecturally beautiful space. St. Paul’s treasurer, Judy Kurtz and her husband Wayne, cooked a giant prime rib roast. Individuals from the LDS churches made their specialty sides. Lisa Labrum made a dessert of individual servings of Pavlova filled cream and berries. Representatives from each of the churches were servers. Of course, there was a dedicated and efficient clean-up crew.
After the guests had enjoyed their private dinner, the cooks and hosts mingled with the guests and told them about other ministries at St. Paul’s. When the evening was done, the party of eight left an unexpected generous donation to fund St. Paul’s Busy Bags. This is a ministry that provides police with a bag of quiet and comforting toys to occupy children whose parents are being interviewed by the police – often after traumatic events in the household. Leftover items from the backpack collections were also donated to St. Paul’s Busy Bag ministry.
Miss Uintah County’s Outstanding Teen offering their help St. Paul’s
Sharing a meal together
Vernal Parish House