Church inspires community to support foster kids
Elizabeth Witt, who describes herself as a new believer, had only attended Antlers-First UMC a handful of times when she asked her pastor, David Mingus, how the church could support foster children in southeast Oklahoma.
That conversation led her church to offer not only blessing bags, but also ongoing support such as home visits, training sessions, birthday parties and Christmas gifts, as well as addressing the trauma and stigma of being in foster care.
“I wanted to let these kids know that someone loves them,” Witt said. “The best way to get that across is to continue to interact with them and have fun things for them to do.”
In turn, Antlers-First UMC has inspired other churches and businesses in Pushmataha, Choctaw, and McCurtain counties to donate their time, money and resources to make that ministry happen.
“Christ would not stop with giving these kids something for the day,” Mingus said. “It’s not just about the bag, but about developing a relationship.”
The community’s support allowed the church to assemble 81 duffel bags full of hygiene items, pajamas, books, toys and teddy bears without spending a single cent to deliver to foster children in Pushmataha County. A $5,000 New People New Places grant and a $10,000 Woodworth Family grant will help fund 250 more bags for foster children in Choctaw and McCurtain Counties.
Mingus worked with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to see how the church could be an ongoing resource to foster kids and families. Lynn McCarn, the district director at the time, said DHS provided some minor support and the church “really ran with it.” She had not seen a church do this kind of outreach on such a large scale in her 23 years of service.
“They’ve done a great job incorporating the entire community into this project,” McCarn said. “They’ve really made it something that feels like the whole community is getting behind these at-risk kids, and that’s not something you always see in a non-profit effort.”
The project grew so large that Tanya Powers, a member of Antlers-First UMC, volunteered to take on day-to-day functions for the blessing bags so that Witt and Mingus could focus on programmatic support.
Powers has organized fundraising events, managed inventory, sorted donations, shopped for supplies, and coordinated with community members in three counties to make blankets and assemble bags.
“I feel it’s making our community stronger,” Powers said. “People want to serve, and by creating this ministry, it has given them an opportunity. And by partnering with DHS, members of the community and sharing the same mission within our community, our efforts will be more effective.”
Witt is excited for the possibilities not only for her home church, but also for the tri-county area.
“It’s one of those things where people say, ‘It takes a village,’” Witt said.
Mingus agrees, though he still gives credit to Witt for starting it all.
“It’s got a life of its own now,” Minugs said. “Maybe we need more people to come in and upset our churches.”