By Angie Olsen
In a recent phone conversation, a woman who runs a not-for-profit daycare here in Missouri told a familiar story. She started working there hoping to help people in desperate situations find ways to thrive. Yet, she spends a majority of her time begging and pleading for resources. When she found out about Festival of Sharing it brought hope. With the help of Festival of Sharing she can spend more of her time for a few months on teaching and resourcing parents on budgeting and parenting. They can now give hygiene, paper product and family food packs as gifts for completing training programs. Another ministry serving migrant farm workers reports their months of greatest need are always October and November. Resources from Festival of Sharing fill their bare shelves and bless the people in their community. These conversations are not rare. People called to help others through charitable organizations constantly pray for and scrounge for resources to help people in need.
The theme for Festival of Sharing is “Sharing: Rated E for Everyone.” This 34th year, we really lived into our theme. A crucial part of this sharing is resourcing organizations who are helping our neighbors in Missouri. This year we shared with 105 agencies between three locations: Sedalia, Dexter and a first-time Sharefest in Cameron. This included:
Baby Bundles - 1152
Backpacks of Love - 789
Blankets - 446
Dental Packs - 2176
Family Food Packs - 1801*
Paper Product Packs - 987*
Personal Hygiene Packs - 2353*
Readin’ & Writin’ Packs - 2549
Beans - 26,000 lbs.*
Rice - 36,000 lbs.
Potatoes - 44,000 lbs.
Popcorn - 2,000 lbs.
*We are so thankful to have increases in these items, because we have statistically identified them as “most needed.”
The Dexter Sharefest blessed the Southeast part of the state and 125 people helped distribute the shares. The Cameron Sharefest was blessed with 50 people and much excitement. Ralph Ensign from Cameron United Methodist Church, said, “It was fun and the presence of the people who helped were wonderful. I am ready to do it again.” One of many blessings from the efforts in Cameron was the donation of fresh produce from the Cross Roads Correctional Center. This partnership was made with the help of Rev. Harold Johnson, Restorative Justice Coordinator for the Missouri Conference of The United Methodist Church. Fresh produce is such a blessing for food pantries and hunger ministries. Partnering with this type of restorative justice ministry is crucial and profound. The Festival of Sharing hopes to expand these partnerships.
Beyond the sharing of resources is the crucial offering of time and energy. To make an effort this large happen there are so many people who willingly offer themselves for service. When you come to Festival of Sharing it is hard to know where to focus your attention. There are organization booths advocating for people in poverty, there is a food court, there is a quilt auction for Church World Service, Best Choice labels being processed, eyeglasses are being counted, there is a Rainbow Ride raising funds to help people in Nicaragua, garden seeds are being sorted and donations are being checked for distribution (Missouri and International). With all this going on though, most eyes are drawn to the bright blue shirts of our hard-working youth.
Youthfest this year had 465 participants, which is an increase from last year. The youth do the majority of the packing and a ton of lifting. Without the youth, there is no way 50,000 lbs. of grain and 44,000 lbs. of potatoes would be distributed. Their energy, enthusiasm and love to serve is contagious. Before this year’s event, we asked youth what they would change about Festival of Sharing and the overwhelming responses were the same: “We want to hear more stories of who we are helping and we want to meet more youth from other churches.” There is a longing to help our neighbors in need and a hope to build relationships with others in the name of Jesus Christ.
Even with a few hiccups, like the inability to turn off the lights where the girls were sleeping, stories were heard and relationships were strengthened. The youth started the weekend with a mixer including PET races, life-size Angry Birds and a climbing wall. Then the youth were lead in a worship-concert by the band Glory Revival, a band from Kansas City with a passion for youth and praising God. After a late night of talking and hopefully some sleeping, the youth were ready to serve.
Glory Revival lead those who gathered in an incredible time of prayer and praise. They started the morning with a reminder that our lives are called to praise the Lord and give God the glory. It helped them keep our scripture theme in focus, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrew 13:16, NRSV)
We also had an outstanding quilt auction and we are so thankful to all who donated such lovely quilts. With the blessing of three traveling quilt shows and having the quilts online for the first time, the auction raised $25,100. Please visit www.festivalofsharing.org/2015quilt-auction to see how much individual quilts raised. This money will help Church World Service in their efforts to advocate for people in poverty and disaster situations around the world. We also sent 19,580 lbs. of kits, this includes: 2,670 school kits, 859 layettes kits, 1,650 health kits, 90 clean-up buckets checked by our faithful volunteers at Festival.
By the end of the weekend we were all tired, but it was a blessed tired. A physical tired, but a renewed spirit. It is good to come together to serve. It is good to come together to share. There is so much more to tell, so please invite one of our Coordinating Committee Members to come talk with your church. To donate to our efforts or to learn more visit, www.festivalofsharing.org or like us on Facebook. Please mark your calendars for a special 35th year celebration of Festival of Sharing October 14-15, 2016. Thank you all and keep sharing!