Grand Ledge teens part of effort to reach out to Appalachia’s needy
By Mark Haney
The Catholic Times
GRAND LEDGE — What the young people of St. Michael Parish give is not big.
Neither is what Judie McGuire gives. Or her aunt, Katie Thelen. And yet it all makes a difference to people living some 12 hours away.
What they give are small gifts, small tokens that form a ministry that makes Christmas a little bit brighter in an otherwise bleak area of the nation.
But the giving doesn’t wait for November or December. The giving started in Lent at the Grand Ledge parish. That’s where, for a second straight year, the youth of the parish collected coffee mugs and filled them.
The mugs, in turn, were delivered to McGuire’s family which, in turn, will combine them with other donations of filled mugs and, after packaging them up with other donated items (separate packages for children, teachers and adults), eventually will turn them over to God’s Mission Outreach in Maple Rapids. That organization will deliver them in early December to needy people in the Appalachian Mountain region of West Virginia.
What the Grand Ledge teens do is not insignificant, however. Last year they drummed up donations of more than 500 mugs and more than 2,000 packets of hot chocolate. This year the teens collected around 400 more mugs and thousands of personal hygiene items to put in the mugs.
“Currently I can hardly move in my office,” said Henrietta Kreft, youth minister at St. Michael. “People have just been so generous. We just collect as much as we can. People are really generous. There are so many people who get these for gifts.”
Kreft also got the teens to solicit donations, but in a fun setting. She put the 28 high school students who participated in a 24-hour food fast to work, canvassing the neighborhood during a scavenger hunt, asking for items that would help the program — mugs, toothpaste, etc.
“When the students came back,” she said, “we filled a table and they filled probably 65 mugs with all kinds of items.”
As service programs go, Kreft said, this one is pretty easy. She posts a notice on the bulletin board at the entrance to the church and leaves orange tubs there for people to leave donations in.
“After each Mass I have to go and empty them,” she said, “because they fill them right up.
“But it really isn’t that difficult at all. I have a youth leadership team I work with, so my students have been helping me coordinate this and put it all together. There really isn’t that much to it other than collecting it, counting it and putting things in the bulletin.”
That was one of the reasons McGuire, while still youth minister at St. Martha Parish in Okemos, passed the idea along to other youth ministers in the diocese.
“A couple of parishes have done things like the mug ministry,” McGuire said. “But they don’t have to do mugs. There are other small things they need like plastic bags, candy donations and that sort of thing. Henrietta just happened to pick the mugs, which works out really well because they go through them so fast.”
McGuire’s involvement began as personal. She knew her aunt was involved so she would make small donations when she could.
“Then she told me they didn’t have enough mugs, they were running out of supplies,” McGuire said. “And I thought, ‘I can do something about that.’ So I had the teens at St. Martha pick an item and we decided mugs would be a good item to start with. We asked the parish for donations of mugs and that’s really how the mug ministry got started.”
Most donations to God’s Ministry Outreach, she said, generally come from one person. So the donations of mugs aren’t large. “They sort of trickle in to the packaging center,” she added. “But they very rarely get these large donations. They go through well over 1,000 children’s Christmas gifts they package every year so they just go through the donations very quickly.”
Her youth group not only delivered their mugs to the packaging center, they also helped work there too.
“It was a very easy thing for the kids to go out and do that,” she said. “It was the easiest service project I have ever done.”
The donations, which are accepted all year, are stored in barns in St. Johns and Maple River until it is time for them to be shipped to West Virginia. They will be just part of a truck-trailer filled with items for the needy there. Cora Goldman, who founded God’s Mission Outreach, began making deliveries in June 1990 and has kept it up since. Especially at the holidays.
“At Christmas,” Goldman wrote on a website, “we serve 10,000, many who would not have Christmas. … It’s 12 hours from here, but these are our neighbors.”
McGuire’s family coordinates the mug ministry end of Goldman’s mission. Her aunts help organize and oversee the packaging of the various mug gifts. Her mother once drove a truck to West Virginia to make a delivery.
“My family has just gotten involved,” McGuire said. “We are tied into it and just have a big heart for it. It is a very simple, very easy thing to do. It doesn’t seem like it is needed, but it is a much-needed service. They run so short on supplies, like personal hygiene items, and my family has gotten involved in trying to pick up some of the slack.”
Anyone can join in this effort too, she added.
“Everybody has a million mugs in their cabinet,” she said. “You get them for Christmas, you get them from companies, you get them from all sorts of places. And they just sit there. They are just taking up space. And it is such an easy thing for people to do. It isn’t something they have to go out and purchase and it is something most people have sitting in their cabinets. Usually they are grateful to get rid of them because they don’t know what to do with them.”
To make a donation, contact McGuire at (517) 449-6635 or e-mail Cuti337@aol.com.