A summer camp where children learn to sew and to cook? First Reformed Church of Wynantskill thinks it’s a great idea. Their campers create things to share with neighbors in need.

By Dawn Alpaugh

Summer camp serves dual purpose in teaching and serving

On the way home from a recent classis meeting, an idea was born. An elder and I were trying to think of something that First Reformed Church of Wynantskill could do that involved children and summer and outreach and serving our neighbors.

We envisioned a small camp where children from our church and community could come together and learn how God calls us to care for our neighbors in need. Those neighbors might be patients at the local hospital, folks at our two local homeless shelters, teens who are unable to live in their homes due to family conflict, or even animals at the animal shelter. The camp would involve teaching campers the basics of cooking and sewing to make the gifts they would then give away.

From that conversation came Cooking and Creating for a Cause.

First Reformed was incredibly blessed to receive two $500 grants, one from the Classis of Albany and one from the Regional Synod of Albany, allowing us to plan our new adventure. We kept the registration fee to $10 so that those who wanted to attend would be able to come. Five of the 21 campers who attended were from the church. The camp ran Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and ended with lunch, which the kids prepared for themselves and the volunteers.

With a small army of volunteers and a fearless deacon willing to be our leader, we sewed about 100 items. We made fleece blankets for a teen shelter, heart pillows for heart surgery patients to help manage pain, rice bags to help alleviate pain for ALS patients, pillows and welcome bags filled with toiletries for a local shelter that houses mothers and their children affected by domestic violence, and cat toys for the animal shelter. We also made 418 muffins, cookies, cupcakes, loaves of bread, Rice Krispies treats, and bags of snack mix for the homeless shelters.

Each agency was amazed by the gifts from the children, who were thrilled both to help neighbors in need and to learn important life skills like sewing and cooking. At the end of the week each child received a recipe book with all the recipes they had created during camp. By spending an entire week of worship on one concept—loving God and loving our neighbors—they left with a better understanding of God’s call on our lives.

We had an amazing time and have already started planning for next summer. Our hope is to offer two weeklong camps, one for elementary kids and one for middle schoolers. We might offer a sewing camp for adults as well.

After the week of camp, the congregation gathered on Sunday morning to pray over all the sewing items. It was beautiful to see the whole church—including a family from the community—joined together, holding hands, touching each item, and praying for the folks who would receive our gifts. I hope they felt the love and prayers that were poured into every item!

Dawn Alpaugh is pastor of First Reformed Church of Wynantskill in Wynantskill, New York.