The people of Shepherd's Community UMC in Lakeland are there in service for people who most need their help.
They show that by literally being the hands and feet of Jesus as they deliver care boxes filled with toiletries, cleaning supplies, and other items to elderly shut-ins who might otherwise go without them.
"A lot of elderly folks need things like toilet paper, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, laundry detergent, and scrub brushes," said Gretchen Ceranic, the Director of Children, Youth, and Families at Shepherd's Community.
The boxes are prepared by the nonprofit agency Volunteers In Support To The Elderly (VISTE) in Lakeland.
In a Facebook post, VISTE noted, "One of our staff members recently recalled a thank-you call from a client when she received her personal care box."
The woman had been waiting for her monthly check so she could buy more soap. Another person said, "I needed laundry detergent, but can't drive and have no one to get it for me. This couldn't have come at a better time."
Twice a year, Shepherd's Community collects the boxes for distribution – but not before adding an important item: a prayer square.
|Shepherd's Community UMC "Prayer Square"|
The church has a thriving prayer shawl ministry, and the prayer square came out of that. Before heading into the community, volunteers place a small 5x5-inch crocheted square with a Bible verse attached to each box. The entire church prays over the squares before they're released.
It makes a difference.
"I delivered a box to an older woman, and when she saw it, she said, 'Oh, I get another prayer square,'" Ceranic said. "She told me she looks at it every day and feels the love of God through the square.
"Another one of our volunteers took a box to a woman living alone. They got into a conversation, and throughout that, became friends. Now, our volunteer takes the woman to doctor's appointments, and she and her husband installed an air conditioner in the woman's house."
Through that, the prayer shawl ministry gained another volunteer. The woman joined the group and now crochets shawls.
Many of those who receive the boxes live alone and felt especially isolated during the pandemic. The boxes provided some connection to the outside world, though, and it told the recipients that they are not forgotten.
Sometimes, though, it can be hard to tell who benefits most – the receiver or the giver.
"Several years ago, I took my young sons to deliver some boxes, and at one woman's house, after inviting us inside, she asked the boys if they'd like to see some pictures of her husband from World War II," Ceranic said.
"She ended up showing us an album of her life and family and telling the most amazing stories. We all ended up hugging each other and loved making a new friend. It was so beautiful to see these boys and this woman connect, and now those boys are in college and still remember her."
Some things are unforgettable.
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org.