By Michelle Gold, Desert Spring United Methodist Church
Loaves and Fishes: Trust that God has provided all we need- to succeed in what we are called to do… I hold this truth in all I do.
When I first started as a volunteer coordinator for hospice in 2013, I was training one of our young college student volunteers. We went out to see a man in a care home that was bed bound in the end stages of dementia. We sat with him, in early December, holding his hand and talking about the holiday season joy we had been experiencing. There was one card on his wall from a birthday that had passed by several months before. My young volunteer started to cry as we left. She was very upset by the condition in which she found this man. For her it seemed he was very lonely in his room. She told me, even though she doesn’t send holiday greetings to friends, -there was no way she would not have sent a holiday card to her grandparent even though they lived far off in the Philippines. I told her we could do something about this; we could make sure to send cards to our patients so that our patients would not feel alone or forgotten during this holiday season.
We collected 200 cards that December and got cards to all our patients. They received between eight to ten cards each. This was an amazing accomplishment and we noticed the joy on our seniors’ faces as they got the cards. One of the care home owners told me that some of the other residents noticed that our patients all received cards, and none came for the other residents. I knew this would have to change. I didn’t want anyone one to feel forgotten during the holidays. The next year we collected 800 holiday cards and delivered them to the patients we served and all the residents of the care homes where we had patients. I had volunteers that shared stories of seeing the joy and that sometimes they had the opportunity to read the cards to people that could not see well enough to read the cards. The excitement grew and we thought for sure we would have to triple our number for the next year because more people heard about the program. Several places told us the number of senior residents that they served, and well, of course, we wanted everyone to feel remembered.
One senior from an assisted living community asked if she could also make cards for seniors in care. She organized a card-making activity in her community so that they could also be a part of blessing others with being thought of during the holidays. She told me that doing holiday cards was one of her favorite activities because she took time to write a note to all her friends and loved ones sharing memories and good cheer. Of late, she had been feeling more and more lonely because her list had gotten so short- but this gave her an opportunity to share holiday cheer in a “Random Act of Kindness,” called letting someone know that he or she was thought of. We did over 2,500 cards that year. I watched as seniors in a memory care community showed each other cards they received. Some said that the cards were from grandchildren. They enjoy sharing joy with one another.
The program grew into remembering veterans during Veterans Day and just saying “Thank you” for the service our services people provided that have blessed us with freedom. Again, I saw how our cards truly blessed others. One veteran told me thank you for the cards and held them close to his heart. He asked me about the child who had written a message stating that he was her hero. He said this was the first time anyone had said “Thank you.” He was one of those Vietnam Veterans that got out during a turbulent time in our American history and saying “Thank you” to a veteran was not the norm.
The next year we did over 5,000 cards for the holidays. A good thing too. Because the cards had captured many people’s hearts, and programs all over the Vegas Valley told us how many people would benefit from cards. We also delivered cards through the food delivery done by volunteers with Helping Hands of Vegas Valley. We had delivered cards the year before to a small number of the home-bound seniors. One of the volunteers shared with me that one of the seniors had pulled out her card from the year before to show the volunteer that she had kept the card and it was a part of her holiday decorations. The card was a treasured part of her holiday season and she was excited to get another one. Wow!!! Who could have guessed a single card could make a big difference in a person’s life. A sense of being of value and thought of in a time when sometimes people are at their loneliest, these cards have changed that and brought joy.
So, you see, I know God has called us to do this missional work in our community. During the Holiday season of 2018, a lot had changed in my life and I was not out in the community a lot telling people about the need for cards for seniors in care. By December fourth, I had collected less than 500 cards. I held on to the story of the “Loaves and Fishes” story from the Bible. I have used that story as a reminder each time it seemed like there wasn’t enough that in truth God would never ask of me or any of His people something and there not be enough. With only five loaves and two fishes, five thousand people were fed and stopped their grumbling because they were filled, Matthew 14:17 & Mark 6:30-44. The list seemed longer and not only were we doing Christmas cards but Hanukkah cards too. Would enough come in? I got an e-mail and a then a call from the community engagement representative from Wells Fargo confirming that they had 1,700 cards. I called to see if they had messages already written and sure enough, they did. She would be delivering them on December 10th. She reported some cards were handmade and didn’t have envelopes and asked if that was alright. I said of course everyone loves getting handmade cards and it didn’t matter if there was an envelope. The cards arrived and they were beautiful! She said, “I have a different number than I had reported; it is 2,300.”
My volunteer who was with me was amazed. We decided to trust the number and that yes, there would be enough on the day we bagged them for delivery. To make it easier the volunteer counted and put a rubber band around stacks of twenty for the day we packed them up for delivery. We continued to have events and collect cards. We always counted out stacks of twenty for the day we had to package them up for delivery.
December sixteenth was the day for packaging the cards and sending them out with volunteers who would deliver the cards throughout the Vegas Valley, Henderson, Boulder City and North Las Vegas senior communities and Care Homes. About four volunteers from Desert Spring United Methodist Church came and they continued to write out cards while three of us walked around a table filled with cards and packaged cards for delivery to the places we had on the list. Some had not given us their total number of seniors yet, so we skipped them for the time being and focused on the number of people we had on our list. We finished filling the order and had some cards left over for the numbers that would still come in. We did not quite have enough left over for what we were expecting but calls came in from volunteers in the community that had made just enough cards to fill the number of cards we needed for the communities we had not yet packaged. Talk about Loaves and Fishes.
The cards were all delivered before Christmas. This did not include cards for the Helping Hands of Vegas Valley Delivery on January 5th that would go out to our food insecure home-bound seniors. Then right before that delivery day more cards came in. We had another 499 cards that were delivered to those saved by helping hands of Vegas Valley. Our rough estimate is that we delivered 4,616 cards to seniors in care. We had enough cards in Spanish and in English for the holidays, as well as; over 500 cards for Hanukkah that were delivered at the beginning of December. God stretched the few cards to many. God brought in just enough cards to fill the requests. Together our community blessed our seniors and brought a holiday season of being remembered to each of them.
I listened to a speaker, John Canins (November 13,2018) use this lesson of Loaves and Fishes to remind us not to push away an opportunity that God gives us with thoughts of not having enough or not having what it takes to put a dent in this problem. Look instead at the resources you do have and know that it is enough. The Lord does not give us too much to handle. The Lord helps us handle what we are given. Trust that God’s got this.