Inspired by a Sunday school lesson, youth at The Church of the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Willingboro, N.J., assembled Blessing Bags to give to residents at local nursing homes in December.
According to Rev. Sandra Jenkins, the project began as a way of exploring “how simple, everyday items we take for granted are actually treasured blessings for others.”
Youth advisors Jilliane Grady, Loretta Battis, Sabina Sanders and Sunday school teacher Evelyn Reid led the children and teens in putting together the festive, holiday-themed bags. The bags included toiletries like toothbrushes and toothpaste, combs and brushes, socks, lotion, and baby wipes, as well as snack crackers. Other bags held pens, books of word games, and packs of tissue.
The youth, from ages 5 to 16, signed Christmas cards for each bag and attached decorative tags that read “Hope, Love, Joy.” Through a partnership with the My Life Foundation, a New Jersey philanthropic organization, stuffed animals also were provided for the project.
The youth dubbed themselves The Flash Mob Christmas Carolers and gifted the stuffed animals and Blessing Bags to nursing home residents as they sang Christmas carols. The residents happily joined in, smiling and singing along with the youth.
“That intergenerational interaction was something to behold,” Rev. Jenkins said.
Twelve-year-old Monica said she enjoyed carrying out this mission project because “helping elderly people makes them feel like they are not forgotten and they feel loved and cared about.”
In addition to visiting with residents at Burlington Woods and Brandywine Homes, the youth of Good Shepherd also gave Blessing Bags to the Camden Neighborhood Center.
But what began as a simple Christmas project one day last December has had a far more lasting impact for both the youth and the greater community.
“I wanted to be a blessing to people,” said Jahmik, a 14-year-old youth member. “This shows that we care and are looking out for others.”
“I learned that there are other ways of helping people besides giving them money,” said 15-year-old Dab. Fellow youth members Ilanya and MJ also said it felt good to help others.
Zaniyah, age 6, may have best summed up the connection between the old and the young.
“I felt good and happy! They felt happy. Helping others is a good thing!”
In addition to their work with older adults, the youth at Good Shepherd routinely usher on Sundays, sing in choir, lead worship, and serve as acolytes. Later this spring, they plan to plant flowers at seniors’ homes and on church grounds to beautify their shared community spaces.
“We have some awesome youth at Good Shepherd,” Reid said. “It amazes me how they go to school, participate in extracurricular activities, and include Sunday school and service in their activities.”
Through their ongoing service and mission work, the youth of Good Shepherd are reaching out to their community and showing just what it means to love others.
“We care about our community,” Grady said. “We are workers for Christ.”
As Samuel, a member of Good Shepherd’s youth ministry, said, “The youth have to reach out to others to carry on God’s work.”