A fluffy pillow is one of the comforts in life. But for some kids a new pillow of their very own is more than a soft place to lay their head. It’s something they cherish.
According to the Department of Human Services, in Minnesota, approximately 185 children each week go into foster care, some of them with only the clothes on their backs.
When Peggy Berger heard about the work of The Compassion Connection in Becker, a resource for those in need in the community with a specialized focus on foster/adoptive families, she thought it would be a great opportunity to engage the youth in her parish in the spirit of service.
As the director of faith formation for St. Marcus Parish in Clear Lake, she is responsible for coordinating youth faith formation for children in grades pre-K through 10th grade as well as a youth ministry group for grades 5 and up.
Right away in October, Berger shared the idea of collecting items from The Compassion Connection’s wish list with the whole parish through the bulletin, asking members to donate necessary items to fill bags for children in need.
“One of the most requested items is new pillows,” Berger explained. “Kids, especially the older kids, just want their own pillow to sleep on. That breaks my heart that something so simple as a pillow could have an impact in a child’s life.”
Berger took the youth ministry group to the storehouse in Becker where they helped sort some of the donated materials and stock shelves. They also got to meet the organization’s founder, Amy Drehmel.
“We are thrilled to have St. Marcus Church youth partnering with us,” Drehmel said. “Most people don’t realize that most foster children come into care with nothing. Foster parents usually do not have time to plan for a placement as most come in a few hours notice or less. So much happens in the first 48 hours of a new placement that often a trip to the store to purchase items is not possible.
“Having these items on hand and ready means [The Compassion Connection] can deliver immediately to the foster family or the foster family can locally ‘shop’ our storehouse and get whatever they need for the child or children.”
Many hands, many gifts
Each month, the parish focused on a different need. Berger explained that the biggest areas of need were for babies and toddlers and then for teens. Bags for babies and toddlers included items like blankets, pajamas, diapers and baby wipes. Bags for teens included pillows and pillowcases, socks and personal hygiene items.
The parish put together 117 bags in total, which will be delivered to The Compassion Connection in mid-February.
“It was just so cool because the faith formation kids helped and the youth ministry group had a huge role in it and took on leadership roles. It was something that everybody did together. Parishioners, whether they had kids in the program or not, helped out. It really was a parish-wide effort,” Berger said.
The parish also “adopted” The Compassion Connection for their Christmas service project to help fulfill some of the needs and wants on its wish list. Some of the items collected included new toys and clothing, outdoor clothing and gift cards.
“Gift cards are one thing the teens in foster care really appreciate,” Berger said. “It’s one thing in their lives they have control over, to be able to walk into a store and buy something they want or need.”
Bringing the message home
Berger said there were a lot of teaching moments throughout the project.
“We talked about what the foster children might be feeling. A lot of the kids might be scared, confused or troubled in so many different ways,” she said. “It was a huge eye opener for the students who don’t have the same struggles to realize they may be sitting alongside someone at school who is struggling and not even know it.”
On the nights the students filled the bags and sewed pillowcases for the new pillows, they prayed before they began working, blessing those who would receive the items.
“We don’t have a name or a face but our prayer was always that someone who gets these things might, in some small way, feel blessed by it,” Berger said.
Drehmel said she is thankful for the parish’s support.
“St. Marcus youth and church are learning more about foster care, the needs involved in foster care and wanting to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in this situation,” Drehmel said.
“They are working hard to bless children in care with the things they need for daily living but it’s more than that, it’s being part of what makes these children feel loved and, in turn, it blesses foster parents and families in a huge way. It tells them that they are seen and loved, too, and they feel encouraged in the work they do for these kids.”
The students were able to take what they’ve learned and share it with the rest of the parish community, Berger said.
Reagan Leaders, 13, said the project was meaningful to her. “To know that we are helping others makes me feel good because it is nice to put others before you, and it helps me grow closer to God,” she said.
Whether it was a pillow or a prayer, Berger said she is proud of the contributions everyone made, as well as the lessons learned.
“Our hope was for the kids to learn what our Catholic faith tells us to do,” Berger added. “In that, I mean teaching youth to be of service to others and helping those in need of our help.”