2016 Year End Wrap Up
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20 NLT
I begin this blog/letter with Ephesians 3:20 because it is so true! Almost 3 years ago now, Tony and I got together a group of volunteers and set out to answer God’s call to make a difference in the lives of people here in Valdosta. Early in the paperwork process to stand up our 501c3, I was seeking a CPA to give us input on some of the paperwork. A friend referred a local CPA and I called the gentleman. He inquired about what we wanted to do with our budding non-profit and I explained that we were going to do a backyard type VBS where we would serve lunch to those who would/might not otherwise get lunch, we were kicking around the idea of offering a Trunk Treat (safe space to trick or treat for the kids), and we would like to do a Birthday Party for Jesus where we would send families home with board games to play with their kids. That was seriously all we thought we were going to do! At the end of my description of our fledgling program, the CPA took a deep breath and said his wife had founded a non-profit working with people in town in the same economic status getting food to students during the weekend when there was no school (and no free meals) and her non-profit had grown exponentially. He went on to say that he could tell our ministry was going to grow like that and he did not want the headache of doing our IRS paperwork in addition to hers. I thanked him for his honesty and chuckled to myself thinking: “Wow! What does he know that God hasn’t told us yet?” As we wrap up 2016, we can tell you that whether his words were prophetic or a lucky guess, our ministry has grown rapidly--so quickly it sometimes takes our breath away! We are involved in many things that were never part of our original vision, but I am fully confident they were always part of God’s plans for Living Bridges Ministry!
This wrap up is an attempt to share the highlights of what God has done through Living Bridges Ministry in 2016. Time and space won’t allow us to share every detail of every program or you would be here reading forever! There are also a few pics of our events so our prayer partners and donors who live out of town can see what some of our stuff.
We began the year with 1000 stuffed eggs and an Easter Egg hunt. New Harvest UMC partnered with us and hosted the event since the park we normally utilize had soccer and baseball teams using their grassy areas. This was our first Easter Egg hunt and was a successful event with roughly 100 adults and children in attendance.
We also partnered with New Harvest UMC for a spring clothing exchange. We were blessed by members of the BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministries) who volunteered to come and help sort the clothing during their spring break! Clothing was distributed to just under 50 people. We also expanded our clothing distribution by making our clothing available to families who suffer loss due to home fires, to foster families, and other families in need through through agency referral.
Once the early spring activities were done, we focused on getting ready for Kids’ Connection! Our fellowship lunch on Memorial Day weekend kicked off our 8 Saturdays of VBS! Our Lego themed curriculum was a huge hit this year and the kids donated $34.10 to a program called Rice Bowls to feed hungry people in Asia!
We are so excited to announce that our 2017 curriculum partners with our local Habitat for Humanity! We could not be more excited about this! During the VBS our adults will work on a home in the area on two
of the Saturdays and the kids will be collecting pocket change for offering to purchase a toilet for the home!
During June, we were invited to share our ministry at a night of VBS at the Church of Grady County. Their VBS was Superhero themed with a focus on missions and what kids can do to make a difference in the world around them. After we shared about Living Bridges Ministry, the kids assembled blessing socks for the homeless! Thanks to those at R&S Sports, Smith Drugs, and the members of The Church for the donations that made these blessing socks possible. Socks were stuffed with hygiene and snack items. Several rotations of kids and sock stuffing yielded 50 pair of socks stuffed and delivered to LAMP
in Valdosta for distribution
Summer also brought about the start of the Sunday night Men’s Bible study. A group of 6-8 guys meet at the McDonalds near the neighborhood and study the Bible from 6-7pm almost every Sunday night! On a couple of occasions, they have even had customers in McDonalds pull up a chair and join them. Unfortunately there are no pics of this group!
As the summer wound down, we were able to celebrate with the Tuesday evening Transformations class who had reached the ½ way point of the program. Thanks to volunteers at Park Ave UMC for cooking and serving us dinner! Thank you also for the support of so many of your Sunday School classes in donating dinners for our weekly classes! Currently this class is in the home stretch! They have 6 more nights of class before they graduate! We also were able to begin a Thursday night class in September. They will reach the ½ way point in early February and should graduate in June!
We had a fun surprise in August when we were blessed by the Atlanta Braves with a donation of 50 tickets to a game. Funding from Park Ave UMC allowed us to only cover half the cost of the charter bus to Atlanta and they provided snack packs for our people. We provided the three meals for the day. Rain did end the game early, but we were blessed to enjoy 6 innings of fun before the rains came. Plans are already being made to seek tickets again this year to visit the brand new stadium! Let’s pray for sunshine!
Also in partnership with Park Ave UMC and the City of Valdosta, we began a brand new program called “Work for Food.” This program allows people who are in need of food to work sorting recycling for the city for 5 hours. After they complete their shift, they are given a signed card to take to the church office at Park Ave UMC. There the worker is given a box of food weighing 20-25lbs. This program is restoring dignity to people by allowing a hand up instead of a hand out! Expansion of this program is expected in 2017!
August also saw the beginning of another new program! Our Mom’s Connection group is a great group of moms who come together 1-2 mornings a month for food, fun, fellowship and discussion. The picture to the right is of hygiene cans the ladies made at the December meeting. Those cans were delivered to the Haven (women’s shelter) here in town. We look forward to the continued growth of this group in the spring of 2017!
Fall brought another clothing distribution! This one just blew us away (pun intended!) We noticed during the summer that more than the usual amount of clothing was coming in, but we kept accepting donations, washing, sorting, etc. When the week of the distribution rolled around we could see Hurricane Matthew was headed for the US. Park Ave UMC had to relocate our distribution to another building so they could open as a Red Cross shelter for those fleeing the storm. It became clear to us that although we set the date almost a year in advance, God had known the storm was going to be here and had planned for this! The extra donations, the larger distribution space, more volunteers, and the list goes on! The fall clothing exchange served over 200 people 91 of whom were here seeking refuge from the storm. The following weekend we distributed to 87 more people at another Harvest fest. One final event helped 34 foster kids get clothing on Halloween! In 2016 clothing was
distributed to nearly 500 people!
We also had a huge turnout for our Trunk or Treat in October with more than 220 people coming out to spend time with us! This was over 100 more people than either of our two previous year’s Trunk or Treats! Needless to say our supplies ran thin and our volunteers were busy! It was so much fun though and we were thankful for the participation of the local fire department and police as well as our volunteers.
Additionally, we were thankful that we did have enough candy and prizes to stay for most of the time scheduled. God is so good to us!
November is a time when we start to slow down. Our only Saturday event for November is our Thanksgiving potluck lunch. It is the only event where we request
our participants bring anything. We provide the meat and volunteers bring side dishes, but we also ask our participants to bring some kind of side item. It is at this event that we eat and fellowship, giving thanks for all God has done for the year! Participants are also blessed with a sack of staple grocery items to help with the cost of groceries during the holidays.
December brought a wedding celebration! Lynnel Haldeman and Jose Paz met while volunteering with Living Bridges Ministry a couple of years ago. They hit it off and began dating. In the fall of 2015 they got engaged and on Saturday, December 3rd, 2016, we
were in attendance at their wedding! Living Bridges Ministry congratulates them!
It is our prayer that God will be with them and their children and that they will have a
life filled with love and many happy memories!
December also finishes out our year of Saturday events! Our very last event of every year is the Birthday Party for Jesus! It is at this event that we share the story of the birth of Christ, make ornaments, frost cupcakes, and parents receive board games, books, and toys to give their kids for Christmas. This year brought record cold for this event and a struggle in our hearts because we know for some of our families the toys we give them are the only toys their kids will get for Christmas. Instead of canceling, we pushed the event back an hour to let it have time to warm up from the overnight low of 27 (which is downright cold in South Georgia). Then we packed up all the gloves, scarves, hats, etc that we had and went out into the 45 degree morning! We were not sure if anyone would come out! 70+ people later, we had to go buy pizzas because we had prepared food for only 50! The coldest birthday party of history was also our largest attended by far! We were blessed to have had enough craft supplies and toys for everyone and enough volunteers to run everything smoothly!
As you can see our year was filled with activity! Words cannot express our heartfelt gratitude for those who pray for us! The foundation of all we do is prayer and prayer partners like you are invaluable to us! We are also thankful for our volunteers, donors, and participants! As our programs grow, the need for more prayer, more volunteers and more donors grows with them. We thank you for your incredible support!
May God bless each of you in the year ahead!Tony and Darcy Gunter