By Jeanne Millsap - Shaw Media Correspondent
MINOOKA – Almost one year ago, Minooka resident Tammie Locher and her niece went to Minooka Bible Church’s “Great Church Giveaway” to look for a few items. Locher’s daughter needed a jacket, and the family had just incurred some medical expenses that made finances tight, so they decided to take the church up on its offer of a free garage sale to browse.
Locher never did find a jacket that day, but she did find something much more important.
She and her family found a church home – a building, a congregation and a minister who would become their spiritual family. Last weekend, Locher was on the other end of the event, volunteering for the church and helping other people find the clothing size for which they searched.
She had returned to the church the day after attending the giveaway last year, after a member had told her she would keep an eye out for jackets her daughter’s size and would leave it in the office if she found one. At the same time, Locher had also been looking for a church.
“I always told my husband when we have a child I wanted to start going to church,” she said.
After talking with the preacher that morning, she and her family visited and have been going ever since.
Minooka Bible Church’s “Great Church Giveaway” started about five years ago. The idea was to gather donations from members and others, then have a huge indoor garage sale to offer to the community. Anyone who wanted to come could.
“Instead of selling the items like in a garage sale,” Pastor Arol McFadden said, “we gave it away to be a blessing in the community. ... We fill our worship center, and whatever they like, they can take. ... We’ve had an overwhelming response.”
This year’s event was Saturday morning. Jeff and Naomi Howard of Morris were the first to arrive, getting there at 5 a.m. for the 8 a.m. door-opening. It’s not the first time they’ve been there, and they said they knew there would be a long line.
The Howards were looking for clothes for their 10-year-old son and for themselves. They did find clothes and also a large box of good condition pots and pans and lids, which Jeff Howard carried out to the parking lot before going back in to help his wife.
“We definitely need these,” he said with a smile.
Jennifer Gundberg of Channahon was one of the first in line. She was looking for back-to-school items for her five children and fabric to make curtains for the kids’ rooms.
Ernesto Aguirre of Minooka hit the jackpot with his find of a stand-alone table saw. His home in Shady Oaks was flooded in the spring, he said, and they lost their deck. The saw would be perfect for building a new one.
“This is part of our year-long emphasis on local and global ministries,” said Ryan Tucker, the church’s Missions 2013 director.
This year’s missions have included packaging 120,000 meals for families in Haiti through the Feed my Starving Children project; sending a team to Nicaragua to drill a water well; and helping with the spring flooding in town.
“We want people to know that the church is more than just a place that asks for money or other stereotypes,” Tucker said. “We want to be as close to Jesus’ likeness as we can be.”
“I think we can go through our lives consuming and consuming and consuming and just hoarding and miss out on the opportunity to be a blessing to others,” McFadden said. “This is an opportunity to resist the tendency to just consume and to meet real needs in the community.”
From the response to the event the first year, though, McFadden said it immediately became even more important than he thought it would be.
“The first year just blew us away,” he said. “We look at that as a game-changer in our church’s life. After that, there was a total shift in the way we expressed our mission statement. ... We want to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the community. God’s given us this responsibility.”
McFadden said the giveaway has become similar to a holy day on the church’s calendar each year. It reminds him of the early church, he said, when members had such love and passion for taking care of each other.