Each Sunday at the end of the 10 o’clock service at St Luke’s Episcopal Church, the Deacon dismisses the congregation with the words “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!” Those words were taken quite literally one recent Sunday, as a group of parishioners formed a procession – 30 people strong – that carried 40 bags of donated items out the door, across the street and into the foyer of the YWCA’s offices on North Main Street.
“The YWCA Transitional Housing program was the happy recipient of St. Luke’s ‘Blue Bag’ donations for the month.” explained Executive Director Beth Oakes, who led the procession from the church to her office. “The parishioners collected many health and beauty items as well as notebooks and pens for the residents. These are items that are not in our budget and are very much needed and appreciated.” Oakes had attended the Sunday service as a show of the YWCA’s appreciation of the parish’s generosity and was very happy to be a part of the dramatic example that the physical donation expressed. “St Luke’s is a great neighbor!” she added.
This new ministry began last fall after a box of blue reusable shopping bags was discovered, left from a previous project. The Rev Luke Fodor, Rector of St Luke’s, says that when the bags were found he knew immediately what to do with them. “My previous church had a monthly collection of non-perishable foods for the local food pantry.” he explains. “Coincidentally, the bags that we used to collect the donations were blue. It only seemed appropriate that we use our bags for the same purpose – thus St Luke’s ‘Blue Bag Ministry’ was formed.” St Luke’s had previously collected items for donation once a month, but this new shopping bag theme gave them the opportunity to spread their community outreach to a larger audience.
Each month the church selects a different organization to be the recipient of the parish’s donations. A list of items representing needs specific to the organization’s clients is composed and placed inside each shopping bag. On the second Sunday the children of the Church School distribute the bags to interested parishioners, who are then asked to by a few of the things from the list and return the bags the following week. On the third week of each month the children bring the filled bags forward to be blessed at the Offertory. After the service, volunteers take the donations to the receiving organization.
Project coordinators Cáitlín O’Rielly and Rose Papalia organize the monthly donations by soliciting recipients, generating the lists and organizing the distribution. Both women, along with former co-coordinator Hope Hill, who recently relocated to North Carolina with her family, got involved with the project after a ministry fair that was held last fall. Ms. O’Reilly, a musician and licensed Music Therapist also wrote the “Blue Bag Processional”, a song that is sung when the bags are brought to the altar.
“To me, the Blue Bag Ministry is just the beginning of what I believe St. Luke’s can bring to our community.” said Ms. O’Reilly. “When I began attending St. Luke’s I had been seeking a community of ordinary people who believe in inclusivity, honor diversity, and who want to do the extraordinary. This particular ministry can lead us to cooperative endeavors between local agencies and religious organizations…we can join together to demonstrate love in a tangible way, no strings attached and no exceptions.”
Ms. Papalia agrees. “Having attended St. Luke’s for almost a year now, I am quite taken with the way the congregation is so giving, loving and thoughtful of the community” she states. “It’s been overwhelming, the joy with which the people in the church have taken to this mission. The shear amount of goods brought forward every 3rd Sunday is amazing. It feels SO good to be able to deliver these things to the organizations. Its like, ‘Look! Look at how we care for you!’ That’s what I love about this church.”
In addition to the YWCA, several area agencies have been the beneficiaries of the ‘Blue Bag’ ministry since its inception last fall, including the First Covenant Food Pantry, Salvation Army Anew Center, Chautauqua County Humane Society, and Toys for Tots. The Union Gospel Mission, the Chautauqua Striders, the Princess Club, and Christ First Food Pantry are among those scheduled in the coming months. Suggestions for donation recipients are welcomed and appreciated by the project coordinators.
St Luke’s Episcopal Church is located at 410 North Main Street (corner of North Main and Fourth), Jamestown, NY. To suggest an organization to be a recipient of donations from the Blue Bag Ministry please call 716-483-2876, or email firstname.lastname@example.org For more information about St Luke’s other offerings please visit their website: www.stlukejamestown.org.