The church where I am a member is rather large and has a helping ministry called the "Back-to-School Closet."
A Sunday school class of single parents wanted to be able to lend a hand to other single parents and came up with the idea. However the closet is available to help others as well; so any family that has the need can visit there and find clothing, shoes, and school supplies for their children. Although the closet ministry does not provide everything that every family might need, they are able to help many.
Perhaps your church is very small and has limited funds that would make something like that "closet" difficult. However, even though your church may not be able to do something exactly like that, it doesn't mean that you can't do something.
A lot of creativity is not required to get something going that would provide help to single parent families. All you really need is a willingness and a bit of energy. The following is offered in the hope that it might help prime your idea pump.
Know what they need
There is no point in stockpiling quantities of something that students don't need, so the first thing you'll need to determine is what items will be needed by the children.
Begin by collecting lists from area schools for supplies needed in each grade. Be aware that not all schools require the same supplies, even in the same system. Nevertheless, you can come up with a very helpful general list.
Know where to get it
Church members can be asked to donate supplies. Some members may prefer to provide supplies from a list needed by certain grade-aged children, and others would rather provide for the needs of a particular child. Perhaps it would be easier for some to simply give money to the church in order to make the appropriate purchases. In any event, be certain that everyone is given the opportunity to participate in helping.
Department stores or discount stores are often willing to donate certain supplies to legitimate organizations, such as a church. Be specific about any requests and be willing to comply with the store's need for legitimacy to be established and for accountability.
For example, they may want to have a letter from the pastor or other church leader that requests the donation and explains specifically how the donated materials will be used.
Know who needs it
In the unlikely event that you find there are no children in your church who can be identified as having back-to-school needs, be assured that there are those in your community who do have needs. Ask the members of the congregation for names of needy families of whom they may be aware. And, if that doesn't work, you can contact organizations like Prison Fellowship or your local Social Services; they will be happy to provide lists of needy families in your area.
Know how to give it
Prepare some back-to-school packages. These can be sorted for certain ages or grades. Make up your own general list of items to provide.
One idea might be to include gift certificates for clothing or shoes. That way the single parent can get the particular item that's needed. Local stores might be willing to add bonus amounts to the certificates you purchase.
When you were a child, remember how excited you were to have a certain kind of pencil or ruler when you went back to school? Well, children today may have different ideas, but they are still children. So, even though you don't have to be carried away with the idea, don't forget to add some fun items to the package. You'll help make the day for these back-to-school folks--and for their parents.
Get to know these single parents and their children. Often they are not attached to family nearby and you can fill a real emotional need in their lives just by being a friend. Even though you can benefit the lives of children and single parents through such an uncomplicated outreach effort as having a simple back-to-school ministry, be assured that the real blessing will be yours.
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