Have you seen the gold tee shirts that say, GOD’S WORK, OUR HANDS? Let us tell you about the St. Mark Outreach Uniform Project. This project is Our Hands at work. After identifying the problem: Low-income parents struggling to afford required school uniforms, we searched for a solution. Based on thirty years’ experience in Atlanta’s inner city, Robert Lupton’s book, Toxic Charity, How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help discourages out right giving of needed items except in an emergency (example: hurricane or flood). He encourages helping in ways that preserve the dignity of the receiver. For example: sell needed items at a minimal price or in exchange for work. There was our solution—sell uniforms at a price parents could afford.
With the help of funds from St. Mark’s Outreach budget, United Way of Rock River Valley, Alpine Kiwanis, Kiwanis Club of Rockford, and Thrivent Financial, we purchased navy and khaki uniform pants and light blue and navy polo shirts.
As a church, we sold uniforms at Beyer School for three years. The Uniform Co-op Store received the United Way 2017 Strong Neighborhood Award for its work there. Beyer has transitioned from Elementary to Early Childhood Education, so we moved the uniform project to two schools in the Ellis Heights area which has been identified by United Way as an area of great need. Ellis Elementary has 478 students and Lewis Lemon Elementary has 395 students. New pants will be sold for $4, new shirts for $3, and anything used for $1. Uniform trade-ins are encouraged and receive $1 credit for each used piece. Only cash is accepted, and purchases are limited to two outfits per student. All money received from the sale of uniforms is used to purchase more.
Selling uniforms has been hard work but an uplifting experience. Parents have been very grateful to be able to afford new clothes for their children. The children have been excited to go shopping with their parents. No one has asked for anything free. After their shopping is completed, we encourage students to each pick out a new toothbrush (donated by dentists who are St. Mark members). Wish you could see the jaunty walk of a student carrying new clothes that his parents purchased – no standing in line for a free give away! The Uniform Co-op Store is a Hand UP, not a Hand OUT.
The Uniform Co-op Store which has been a partnership from the beginning, stepped up a notch this year when another church came onboard. Two new lead volunteers who are members of First Free Rockford joined us and were able to access money from the Jeremiah Project available to First Free Rockford members who volunteer with a not-for-profit. God’s Work is always full of surprises!
How can you lend a hand?
· Donate new and used (no stains or tears) school uniforms.
· Donate money so we can purchase uniforms.
· Help sell uniforms on Registration Days August 6 and 7 and at Parent-Teacher Conferences.
· Include teacher, students and their parents in your daily prayers.
~ Stella Schroeder and Maureen Hargrove, Uniform co-chairs
Ellis Elementary Lead Volunteers– Stella and Chuck Schroeder and Maureen and John Hargrove. Lewis Lemon Lead Volunteers– Chuck and Vickie Allton and Jerry and Carolyn Norquist