Written by Connie Larkman
Every Monday morning, the sounds of sewing machines, lively conversation and laughter can be heard in one of the all-purpose areas of David's United Church of Christ in Kettering, Ohio.
The women of the "Warm Wishes" ministry are at work with the sole purpose of keeping their neighbors warm.
"We do this year round, because we would not have enough to go around otherwise," said Nedral Dalton, the project coordinator. "We put out a nice product. Take a lot of pride in making our sets attractive, comforting and warm."
The sets she mentions are made up of mittens, a hat and a scarf. Fleece cut and sewn with care every week for the past 14 years. All the cutting is done at the church. Volunteers who can't bring their machines in can sew at home. There is always a lot to do. In 2016, the ministry distributed 3,945 items, to help 1,315 people.
"We concentrate on men," Dalton said. "Everybody wants to help children and women get a lot of assistance too. They ignore the men."
Dalton has just started a Sunday evening sewing session once a month, so folks who work or can't be on hand Monday mornings can help too.
"Warm Wishes" was started by Marilyn Cartwright in 2004, after she walked into the church office on a cold day, and decided she wanted to do something for the people out on the streets. She started cutting scarves from fleece in her kitchen and reached out to other members of David's UCC for help.
The ministry grew and the congregation's support did too. From scarves cut for distribution to homeless people to fleece sets created for anyone who might need one. Now under the guidance of Nedral Dalton, who stepped into the role of coordinator in 2010 when Cartwright moved to warmer climes in California, the mission continues to grow.
The turnout Easter Monday, Dalton said, was the biggest she ever had. With 12 people, a lot of cutting and sewing was accomplished that morning, in a time when they usually see about 8. In all, there are about 20 volunteers doing different things for "Warm Wishes." One person sorts and stores, keeps track of the inventory, another helps purchase the fleece and assists the sewers.
Community members at homeless shelters, food banks, outreach ministries and schools all benefit. As Dalton said, "They just sort of come to you when the word gets out there. It's not just for homeless people...it's for people a paycheck away from having to decide whether to buy food or something warm."
Since the inception of "Warm Wishes" David's UCC has given 34,654 items to people in the Dayton area. That's a lot of fleece.
"We are a line item in the budget for the church," Dalton said. "David's has stepped up and really embraced this project."
"It’s really important for my folks to do this for others in the community in a spirit of graciousness and friendliness," said the Rev. Brian Newcomb, pastor of David’s UCC. "What’s beautiful about it .. the fleece is really bright colors. When we display these gifts in our santuary before we send them out in the fall, it’s really an amazing thing that they’ve done."
The Warm Wishes ministry is this congregation’s way of working toward a just world for all. It is exactly the type of project UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer envisions as part of an all-church mission initiative that will be introduced at General Synod: 3 Great Loves: Love of Children, Love of Creation, Love of Neighbor.
"Our church really responds to these types of hands-on ministries that help people directly," Newcomb continued. "This is one really significant way to reach out to people who have great need."