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Good Shepherd youth serve Blessing of Hope

Posted By September 19, 2014 | 10:33 am | Lead Story #3
Photos courtesy of Jason Patnode
Missionaries from Good Shepherd Parish of Linwood display boxes of the 4,672 personal care items shared with families in  Ephrata, Penn., through Blessings of Hope program there.
Photos courtesy of Jason Patnode Missionaries from Good Shepherd Parish of Linwood display boxes of the 4,672 personal care items shared with families in Ephrata, Penn., through Blessings of Hope program there.

By Jason Patnode
Special to The CFP

UXBRIDGE  – “For it is in giving that we receive.”  It is a simple yet poignant quote articulated more than 800 years ago by Saint Francis of Assisi, and one that resonates strongly with 11 youth and three adult missionaries from Good Shepherd Parish of Linwood upon their return from Ephrata, Penn. It was there that they met Aaron Fisher, director of Blessings of Hope, a nonprofit food distribution center that serves more than 300 needy families and another 90 nonprofit organizations across Pennsylvania and beyond.
On Aug. 3 the group of young missionaries packed into a van and made the journey to Pennsylvania, where they would work side-by-side with Mr. Fisher and his volunteers packing and distributing boxes of food. But they didn’t go alone. Trailing behind them was a U-Haul packed with 60 banana boxes of personal care items that they had collected or purchased – 4,672 items total. Since none of these items can be purchased with food stamps, many families rely on donations. Most weeks Blessings of Hope is only able to give each family one personal care item. But when families arrived that
Wednesday each received a bottle of shampoo, a bar of soap, men’s and women’s deodorant, four toothbrushes, a tube of toothpaste, and a roll of toilet paper.
But Good Shepherd brought more than just personal items. They also brought a passion to serve and a strong and tireless work ethic.
On most days they worked 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the warehouse under the guidance of warehouse director Lester Hurst. Here they packed industrial-size packs of pretzels and drink mixes into manageable portions for families to take home.
“For the first two days we packed two and a half palettes of pretzels, each standing seven feet tall,” explains Haley Millette, 16. A few of the older volunteers also helped on the loading dock moving a donation of 4,500 watermelons.
Wednesday was the busiest day as volunteers arrived first thing in the morning and formed an assembly line to pack boxes of food for the 300 families. That afternoon they distributed the meals to families, and at the end of the day helped clean the warehouse and discard expired produce. Toward the end of the trip they also painted a mural for the organization that one of the teens, Tala Rousseau, 15, had designed and Abbie Cote, age 16, drew.
But what was given by the missionaries in their time and generosity was gifted back to them by the hospitality of their hosts – five former Amish families who run Blessings of Hope and the parent ministry, Light of Hope.
“I was surprised by the way they opened their house so much to us,” Tala said. “Their kids even slept on the floor. They are such hospitable people.”
Throughout the week they were immersed in an entirely different culture. They enjoyed traditional Amish cooking, participated in Prayer Circles, and took turns doing chores.
“Everything is done as a community,” said youth leader Jason Cote. “There is always consideration and discussion for others.”
Abby Stratton, 13, became quick friends with the children there and continues to exchange letters. “I never thought I would make new friends so quickly from such a different culture,” she said.
Missionaries not only appreciated the new experiences, but also the change in perspective and spiritual uplifting the mission instilled in them.
“Not only did it make me appreciate other people, but it also made me realize that other people would accept me,” Hailey Millette said. Her 12-year-old cousin Lexi added, “this experience opens up your eyes to what other people live like.”
Even the littlest of hosts also found a way to provide inspiration. Abbie Cote describes how an 8-year old boy named Johnny prayed over her one day to make her feel better. “To hear such a beautiful prayer from an 8-year old was amazing,” she said.
The team was awed by how much the experience changed them.
“It brought us closer to God, as everything we do we do for him,” Domanic Guertin, 17, said.
Blessings of Hope was the first youth service week in Good Shepherd Youth Ministry’s recent history, and one that is sure to be repeated.
“This being their first mission I wanted it to be an overall positive experience so I chose an organization that I knew would provide this experience,” Jean Peterson, director of youth ministry at Good Shepherd, said.
Ms. Peterson has an ongoing relationship with Light of Hope Ministries, the parent ministry to Blessings of Hope, as well as with Mr. Fisher.  “Half way through the mission everybody was already talking about doing it again next year,” Ms. Peterson added.
They are looking to go beyond just collecting personal items and also school supplies.
Youth Ministry will be holding fundraisers but they’re also seeking donations of items, cash, and gift cards.
Anyone looking for ways to help can go to the website at http://www.goodshepherdlinwood.org.