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Church Gives Big to Lincoln
Radiant Church Celebrates Another Big Give at KPS
It started with backpacks.
About five years ago, Radiant Church in Richland wanted to do something for the community, so the church conducted a backpack drive. The church members responded enthusiastically, donating hundreds of backpacks and stuffed them with school supplies.
Kalamazoo Public Schools responded appreciatively, but as church members were handing out the backpacks they encountered teachers who said, “Thank you for this. One of the things we really need is socks. A lot of kids come from homes where they don’t have a lot.”
“We were shocked,” said Pastor Lee Cummings. “Teachers were telling us they go through a lot of socks because kids’ shoes sometimes have holes, so their socks get wet. So we went to the store and bought every pair of socks they had to make an addition to the backpacks.
“We came back a little heart-broken about that.”
But from the heartbreak came a focused effort to help at least one school each year, now known as The Big Give. This December, the church’s Big Give benefitted Lincoln International Studies School, where every student received a new winter coat, hat, gloves and boots from the church. An addition, the church made the give extra celebratory with a concert, free pizza, crafts and carnival games.
Lincoln Principal Linda Howard said, “I am grateful for Radiant Church. The church uplifted the spirits of students and staff. Also, there was a sense of peace and unity throughout the school. The event was miraculous, remarkable, and captivating. It is great knowing that every child at Lincoln has winter gear. Radiant Church exemplified an intense level of compassion for every single person at Lincoln, and its members are truly appreciated.”
The Big Give was set up as a shopping extravaganza for the children. Thousands of pieces of winter gear — coats, boots, hats, and mittens — were set up like a huge department store display, and children explored the offerings with volunteers who helped them make their selections.
It was a celebration that radiated with good cheer and excitement.
The church makes sure it is a colorful event with a variety of styles and colors so the children do not just receive new winter clothing — but they get to choose what they want.
“We asked, ‘What if we bless these kids like crazy?’” said Chelsea Kneibel, event coordinator for the church. “Let’s just love these kids for a day.”
Five years ago, after the backpack project and learning about some of the basic needs of the children, the church debriefed and thought about the needs in the community, especially among children in school, Cummings said.
The problems of the community can look overwhelming, Cummings said.
“We thought, “What would it look like if we could find one problem in our city that relates to our kids, one that we could just solve given the size of our church and the resources we have?’” he said.
“The issue of winter clothing came up. And, we thought, ‘What if we went into a school and solved that problem for an entire school each year?’”
So far, the church has organized Big Gives for Edison Environmental Science Academy, Washington Writers’ Academy, and Woodward School for Technology and Research.
The program has grown each year, Kneibel said. The 3,000-member, nondenominational church holds a special collection in November. This year the church collected about $150,000, which was divided between the Big Give and an international project in Myanmar. As one can imagine, setting up the party and giving away all of those coats and boots requires tremendous effort, and this year about 300 church member volunteered for the event.
The Big Give is about giving more than coats. It’s also about delivering joy and dignity, Cummings said.
“I know what it’s like to have more need than you have resources to put food on the table,” said Cummings, who was raised by a single mother in Pontiac.
So the entire day is designed not just as a giveaway but as a memorable experience that makes children feel the richness of being surrounded by a community that lifts them up.
“We are meeting a need, but it’s actually fun for them. We feel Christmas should be the most joyful time of the year. So we want to create an environment they will remember and the experience itself will be a gift.”