Meet Catherine Worsham of Spout Springs Church. Within three minutes of chatting with Catherine, you’ll wish she were a volunteer at your organization. She exudes a can-do attitude in the most remarkable way.
Catherine holds down a full-time job in finance with the government, but in her spare time (she also has two school-age children and a husband), she is a volunteer leader at Spout Springs Church in Cameron, North Carolina. Among other things, she is currently the leader of the Backpack Brigade mission. Catherine told a touching and inspiring story when we asked her how the Backpack Brigade began.
Initially, Spout Springs Mission Leader, Nicole McGhee, Catherine, and several congregants reached out to their local elementary school to inquire how they might be of service. Approximately 98% of the school’s students receive free and reduced lunch; a clear indicator of a low-income population. The first priority for the principal was to have volunteers engage in report card reviews. Since so many of the students came from single-parent households and/or had parents who worked two jobs, it wasn’t always easy for parents to find time to sit down with their children and discuss them.
During one of these sessions, one student indicated that he wanted to go to college. Encouraging the young boy, Catherine asked if he had all of the school supplies he needed to be a good student. His response was difficult to hear, “My mom said that she will buy them when she gets her next paycheck.” It was already October. That was all Catherine needed to hear to put a plan in motion. She coordinated with the school to determine how many students needed assistance. In their first year, the Backpack Brigade delivered 70 backpacks to the school and even managed to provide lunch for the teachers!
Our church is amazing,” said Catherine. “We are not a mega-church. We have maybe an average of 200-300 people in attendance each Sunday. But our members want to help and they like knowing where their help is going.
As the Backpack Brigade learned more each year and the pandemic forced people into digital solutions, they began using Amazon wishlists. As Catherine noted, some people can/want to provide both the backpack and all the necessary school supplies. Others are limited by how much they can give, so Catherine encourages people to purchase whatever they can and then she and the volunteer team will reconcile all the supplies into backpacks. In addition, they collect money to purchase backpacks and any other supplies that are not donated. Each Sunday for a month before school starts, volunteers man the Backpack Brigade table before and after church services to receive donations and answer any questions.
The Backpack Brigade has been so successful that they have contributed backpacks to five schools and now service 3-4 local schools annually. Plus, they have expanded to supply teachers with whatever extra classroom supplies they need. Additionally, they provide snacks and microwave meals for students. As Catherine put it, “For some kids, lunch is their last meal of the day. If their parent(s) are working night or double-shifts, there is no one home to serve them dinner.”
Spout Springs also conducts an Adopt-a-Family program during the holiday season called Operation Christmas Hope. The church coordinates directly with social workers and counselors to gather referrals for needy families. Families complete wish lists that include “wants” and “needs.” Catherine and her colleagues then ensure that every family has two sponsors and that each person in the family receives a few things from each of the wants/needs columns. The program has been so well supported by the church, that last year they added 30 senior citizens to their giving roster. Catherine also lauded the support of Food Lion (a local grocery chain) that generously donated food cards to assist in providing Christmas dinners.
Now if you’re reading this post, you’re likely familiar with the Adopt-a-Family or Giving Tree concept, but Catherine mentioned a few key elements of their program that others may find meaningful.
- Gifts are delivered to the Operation Christmas Hope team unwrapped. This is to ensure that the team knows exactly what they have for which family.
- The team encourages congregants to involve the whole family (both for the backpacks and the holidays) . Why?
- to instill a sense of community in one’s children
- to engender empathy for others at an early age
- to empower children to know that they can create change for the better
- The parents know where the gifts are coming from, but the team encourages parents not to share this with their children. Why? Because the team feels that the parents have already had to swallow their pride to ask for help. They want the parents to be able to preserve the magic of Christmas (and Santa!) for their children.
- Catherine shared that a friend of hers had been the recipient of a church’s generosity at Christmas one year as a child. The friend still remembers her embarrassment and humiliation when the church had the gift recipients go in front of the congregation to receive their gifts.
What role does PlanHero play in the good work of Spout Spring Church?
PlanHero is used to organize and gather signups for the Backpack Brigade Sunday volunteers. “We love that you don’t have ads all over the signups. The signup process needs to be easy for all ages. It’s also great that you don’t sell our information. We have enough of that. We don’t need unnecessary emails.”
This year they’ll be using PlanHero to aid with Operation Christmas Hope as well (to “adopt a family” or a “family member”). Missions Leader Nicole noted PlanHero is super easy to set-up and she and her volunteers love the clean user interface with no pop-up ads. The text reminders have been really helpful as well. Among other things, Spout Springs Church also uses PlanHero for church potlucks, volunteers for staff/elders Christmas parties, meal trains for members in need, and volunteers for memorial services.
What’s Next for this Group of Uber Volunteers?
As they continue to make connections with community social workers and nonprofits, the team recently learned of a challenging situation for rape survivors. After being processed for rape kits, the survivors are left to go home in hospital gowns. Enter Spout Springs. They reached out to the congregation for donations of loose fitting tops and bottoms for all sizes and ages. Now the traumatized survivors can return to their homes with at least a modicum of comfort and dignity.
One is hard-pressed to not feel that this group of people is walking the walk. It seems that no one is seeking recognition or adulation for their good works. They are content in the joy that doing good brings them. May we all follow their lead.