Small but Mighty: Waterville UMC
July 27, 2021 / By Bryant (Waterville UMC Pastor) and Kristina Clark
Before we first started dating, my now wife asked me, “So what do your churches do?” I wasn’t sure what she meant - “well we worship on Sundays, have Bible study on Monday nights; there’s choir rehearsal on Thursdays.” “No I mean what do they actually do?” I did my best to not get defensive - I work a complicated job she would soon learn. I started listing the things I do in a week; I never did quite understand what she was asking... until we started the diaper bank.
It started early in the pandemic, as a church we wanted to help the people in our community who were experiencing hard times. Diapers, it was pointed out by one of our parishioners, were not covered by any type of government assistance. We started small by identifying five families in our village that were experiencing diaper need. At the start of each month we committed to showing up to these families’ house with a smile and a box of diapers. In those first months we formed relationships with them, celebrated birthdays and holidays, opened our hearts and shared each other's pains as the world seemed to be balancing on a pin. It felt like we were doing some big things back then - but we had no idea what God had in store.
As we continued this project, a newer member of our church confided in me that she’d always thought our area needed a diaper bank. “What’s a diaper bank?” I asked. It’s like a food bank, just with diapers I found out. I found out a lot of things in those early months: over a third of all young families in America struggle to meet their diaper need, a newborn baby can use up to 10 diapers in a day and diapers, it turns out, come in different sizes - who knew?
We were all learning as we went, and support for our new mission effort was growing rapidly, not just in our church but in the outer community as well. We felt the Spirit calling us to something much bigger, to take the next step and open our diaper bank to the whole public community. I don’t think any of us truly felt we were ready, but thanks-be-to-God we said “yes” to the Spirit’s moving in our hearts. Our first community-wide diaper drive gathered more than 2000 diapers from church goers and community members alike. Something big was about to happen in our little town and at our 40-person church.
Since Halloween 2020, when we officially launched It Takes a Village Diaper Bank, we have distributed over 15,000 diapers to any who attend our distributions - no questions asked. We’ve served residents from 27 of the surrounding towns and villages and have interacted with more than 200 unique families so far. We’ve partnered with countless other churches, nonprofits, and other organizations, most especially our local public library, allowing us to distribute other items like baby wipes, baby items, sanitary pads, books, winter gear, toys, and to over 100 families every month. In 2021 we are on track to more than quadruple our 2020 numbers thanks in large part to donations and support from our community and other Methodist churches.
We are the only diaper bank in Oneida County and are working hard to sustainably grow our mission so it can continue to be a resource for families that count on us every month. A generous donation from a neighboring Methodist church now allows us to now move our diaper bank out of the church and into a storefront here in Waterville. While I am as relieved as the rest of our church to have our church free of diapers, I will never forget the image of my first church empty of its congregation in the middle of a pandemic, but filled to the brim with diapers and baby supplies. Our Sunday school rooms, fellowship hall, and choir rehearsal areas will always remind me of the time they were absolutely covered in items waiting to fill people’s basic needs. It’s the kind of chaos God calls creation from and we’ve been blessed to be a part of it.
It’s hard to imagine where our church and our community would be if we had said “no” to God’s nudging. What if we decided diaper need was too big of a task for our little church to take on? What if we were too wrapped up in our own pandemic worries to care for our neighbors? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but what I do know is that through our diaper bank, God has not only empowered our church to make a difference, but has taught our little church what it means to act in faith. It has challenged our notions of what it means to be a follower of Christ and even our ideas about what the church is for.
We have seen a lot in this past year: some of it good, and a lot of it painful. But what I know for sure is that something is happening that started in our little church and has continued to expand outward. The Spirit has challenged us to see the needs of our neighbors first, to collaborate with other churches and organizations and to be a church willing to take risks and truly step out in faith. In this COVID season, I expect lots of us are searching for God’s guidance. The question we must ask ourselves is who is willing to say yes.
To learn more about It Takes a Village Diaper Bank, visit www.watervillemethodist.org/diaperbank.