Helping Haiti from Summer Camp
By Nikki Massie
Most camp-bound children aspire to fill their summer days with outdoor activities like swimming, hiking and playing games. This summer, 1,500 campers in Nebraska and Kansas are putting a different spin on their summer fun by filling an ocean freight container.
In a first-of-its kind partnership between Lutheran World Relief and Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries (NLOM), campers at three sites in Nebraska and Kansas have set out to assemble 32,000 Personal Care Kits (enough to fill an entire freight container) bound for Haiti.
“We approached NLOM to consider adding Personal Care Kits to their summer programs because the agency has an excellent reputation of high-quality programming,” says Brenda Meier Kimaro, LWR’s director for congregation and community engagement. “As a leading Lutheran outdoor ministry, we knew they would be well positioned to take on such an ambitious partnership.”
NLOM provides summer camping programs to more than 3,000 children each summer, and serves more than 15,000 retreat and conference participants of all ages annually on behalf of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
As part of the “Created for Community” project, campers ranging from first grade through high-school will assemble Personal Care Kits that contain items like soap, washcloths and toothbrushes. From the camps, the kits will go to LWR’s warehouse in New Windsor, Md., before being shipped to Haiti to supply additional Personal Care Kits in response to January’s devastating earthquake.
Before making the Personal Care Kits, the campers first hear stories about previous kit recipients.
Personal Care Kits are one part of LWR’s comprehensive response to the disaster that struck six months ago. After the earthquake LWR sent items such as Mission Quilts, Baby Care Kits and Personal Care Kits to provide comfort and relief. LWR is making progress working with rural communities struggling to support family and friends who fled from Port-au-Prince by helping grow food and rebuild communities, but many people are still in need of help. Personal Care Kits will help families stay healthy as they work to rebuild their lives.
So far the project has been wildly successful among the campers. Kit assembly is taking place in the “LWR pavilion,” built in the shade of the trees bordering the camp’s lake. Upon arrival to camp, students get an orientation to the project — the number of kits the camp is to assemble, why Personal Care Kits are important and why the people of Haiti need them. They also get to see pictures of people around the world who have received kits.
“Seeing the pictures puts a human face on the project,” says Lisa Hettinger, Program Specialist for the Created for Community Project.
To make 32,000 kits during eight week-long sessions, each session of campers must assemble 4,000 kits. During the first session of camp, the children exceeded 7,000 kits. Currently, the campers have assembled more than 25,000 and are on target to reach their goal.
“The campers are really enjoying the assembly,” adds Hettinger. “We had one group of fourth through sixth graders that asked if they could stay to keep putting kits together rather than going to the pool.”
A bit of friendly competition has developed between the elementary and middle-school aged children. At first the younger kids were making more kits until the middle school kids decided to step up their production.
But the kids seem to understand the impact of what they are doing. During one assembly session, a camper pointed out that they should take the time to assemble correctly because getting the job done right is more important than assembling the most kits.
Overall, many children name this project a favorite part of their camp experience. One camper, Camryn, said, “Making the kits at camp shows us that we can make a change in the world — not just adults.”
Campers carry completed kits to be packaged for the freight container.
At the close of camp NLOM and LWR staff will come together with campers and community members to bless the kits at the camp’s annual quilt auction.
For the people of Haiti, these kits will be a tangible symbol of God’s love amidst hard times. For the children attending NLOM camps, the experience is just as meaningful. “The kits are a symbol of hope for Haiti,” says Chloe, a camper.
Follow the progress of the NLOM campers as they strive to complete all 32,000 kits! And you can support their efforts by making a donation to the Project Comfort Fund to help cover the costs of getting the kits from their hands into the hands of people in Haiti that need them.
And to find out how your church or youth group can put your faith into action by making Personal Care Kits, visit the “Be Involved” section of our website.
Nikki Massie is LWR’s Staff Writer.