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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church

    news article

    Red Bird Mission: More than shoeboxes

    June 16, 2020 / By Judy and David Mott, Aloquin-Flint UMC

    Editor's Note: Many people are familiar with Red Bird because of the shoe box ministry the UNY Conference supports each holiday season. Below is an article that originally appeared in the 2020 Spring issue of the Advocate; Judy and David Mott describe that Red Bird offers so much more than shoeboxes for the Appalachia community. Click here to read the Advocate that has more articles on Red Bird, as well as several other articles describing how people in UNY are "being the hands and feet of Jesus."

    Red Bird Mission was established in 1921 in Beverly, Kentucky, located in the southeastern part of the state, nestled in the hollers of the Appalachian Mountains, through the Daniel Boone Forest.

    Red Bird Mission is primarily a workcamp but has many more amenities to help the people of Appalachia. There is an international accredited Christian school, built in the shape of a cross. There are boys’ and girls’ dorms for those who do not live nearby. The school enrolls 240 students from Pre-K through 12th grade. They have a very high percentage of students graduating and going to college.

    There is a medical and dental clinic for the residents to use as a reduced rate, a senior center where fellowship happens and where a Meals on Wheels program is located; there is a food pantry once a month and a craft store where Appalachian crafts are sold. There is a store that looks like a mini-Walmart where goods are sold based on a family’s income. There is a Christmas store, where your shoeboxes are distributed at no cost to the residents. Recently, a water kiosk was added so that residents can buy a clean gallon of water for only $0.25. There is a volunteer fire department on site and a mini lumberyard. There are senior apartments and houses for those that have lost their homes due to fire or other reasons.

    For the workcamp, volunteers arrive on Sunday night with a meal and orientation, fellowship and an early bedtime. We have done many different projects, some of which were: shingling a roof; fixing of building windows, doors, floors, or ceilings; painting; installing steps or ramps; adding kitchen counters; and more.

    Monday morning, we get started with a great breakfast, prayer, and devotions. Then, it is off to meet your crew leader for the week, and off to your project. All Red Bird vans are filled with the supplies you need and ready to go. You then meet the homeowner and check out your project. The most important part of the project is to let the homeowner know that we are the hands and feet of God to give them a hand and not a hand-out.

    Tuesday morning begins the same, but your job may change. Sometimes your job may be to just talk or read the Bible with the homeowner. Most are widows or disabled. Coal mining was the main employment for many years and many men passed away from black-lung disease, leaving their family to take care of themselves.

    They call Wednesday your day off. You can stay and work on your project or travel 35 miles over the mountains to do some siteseeing. We have really enjoyed Cumberland Gap, about an hour-and-a-half drive away.

    Thursday starts with more wonderful food, prayer, and devotions. When you get to your project, you may notice that your homeowner seems different. Sometimes they have a huge smile, give you a big hug, and offer you coffee and something to eat even though they do not have a lot. You have already changed their lives. After a delicious dinner, we share talent night with some who are very talented and some who are not so talented. It’s a lot of fun.

    Every night, we have bonfires, hot chocolate, and marshmallows with new friends from all over the country.

    Friday is your last day to work on your project and say goodbye to homeowners. We generally give them a prayer shawl, hugs, and prayers. When we get back to campus, we fill the vans for the next week’s projects. We head to bed early and are up early Saturday morning for our journey home.

    There is a cost to volunteer at Red Bird, but it is absorbed by the joy we receive from the grateful homeowners.

    You can help either by joining a mission group or praying for the people of Appalachia and the volunteers that go there to help.

    With more than 144,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 865 local churches and 91 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."