Campus ministry starts backpack mission to help homeless

Friday, December 2, 2011 | 5:46 p.m. CST; updated 9:23 p.m. CST, Monday, December 5, 2011

COLUMBIA — Reaching his hands into a big box full of personal care items, Zach Lynn carefully separated the soap from the lotions and placed them into respective paper bags.

Later, these items, plus non-perishable food, bottled water and basic medical supplies, would be stashed into backpacks and taken to places where Columbia's homeless congregate.

Lynn, an MU student and a member of First Presbyterian Churchs campus ministry, The Vine, participates in "Random Packs of Kindness," a new mission to distribute backpacks with a variety of items to those in need. 

The supplies were sorted by members of The Vine before Thanksgiving and distributed on Friday morning.

Preston Turley, director of The Vine, said the mission was a brainchild of his wife's friend who was already distributing similar backpacks to people in need.

"We were having a Bible study about what it means to be a Christian in the community, outside of the walls of our church," Turley said. "Zach came to me after that and said there's no reason why our group shouldn’t do this, having the resources of an entire congregation of people as opposed to just one person."

Lynn, who has attended First Presbyterian with his family for 13 years, said he realized a lot of churches have ample resources that are not being used to their full potential. 

Turley agreed. He said that items accumulated for a similiar program, "Saturday Morning Breakfast Cafe" — which provides those in need with breakfast and other resources — usually go unnoticed and unused.

"We have these extra resources that would have just sat in the closet somewhere, but the backpack mission is putting them to good use," he said.

Turley said he hopes the mission becomes a regular program.

"It may run year-round. I don't see why we should stop collecting. We'll continue as long as there is still stuff to distribute," he said.

"We'd like to do at least through the cold season, especially in the colder months when people are sleeping outdoors."

With only one announcement and one newsletter printed, Turley said the group was surprised by the number of donations and the strong response from the church.

"It speaks to the character of the students we have here that they took the initiative to make this happen — and also to the members at large at the church," he said.

Nonetheless, Turley said he wishes other individuals in the community would get involved.

"It's obviously not a closed program," he said.

Jordan Junkermann, a Stephens College student and a member of The Vine, said it's her first time participating in a mission. She said she believes it can change how the community perceives college students.

"Of course they always see us around because we are more than half of the population, but they don't always see us as a ministry group," she said.

Turley said seeing his students proactively turning words into actions makes him proud. 

"The hope of a director is that you can inspire some type of actions, more than just bringing bodies into a room once a week to read the Bible to them," Turley said.

Even though the doors to a church are almost always open, not everyone is going to come in, he said. The congregation must reach out and offer help to those in need.

"That's the biggest part of what being a Christian is," Turley said. "We leave our comfort zone to offer help with nothing expected in return." 

The Vine is collecting items for future use and especially needs backpacks, bottled water and winter garments. Cash donations are also welcomed.

Items can be dropped off from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the church office, 16 Hitt St.

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