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On the Record

Gift of Love

On the Record with Sharon Wadle

Sharon Wadle (center) leads a group of volunteers to help make backpacks for school kits to be sent to needy and poor children around the world through Lutheran World Relief.
Sharon Wadle (center) leads a group of volunteers to help make backpacks for school kits to be sent to needy and poor children around the world through Lutheran World Relief.

DeKALB – Parents of children in DeKalb County have recently finished back-to-school shopping, but for Sharon Wadle and the congregation of First Lutheran Church in DeKalb, assembling school supplies has just begun.

Wadle and volunteers with First Lutheran Church, 324 N. Third St. in DeKalb, will put together Project Promise School Kits for Lutheran World Relief as part of God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday on Sept. 10.

Lutheran World Relief is a nonprofit organization that helps families in the world’s poorest communities. In 2016, support from Lutheran World Relief reached 3,476,823 people, 32 countries and 118 projects. Project Promise School Kits are sent to places where required school supplies may be more than a family can afford or if the area has been devastated by a natural disaster.

Each school kit arrives in a backpack that can be purchased or made by hand using a pattern found online. Each backpack includes four notebooks, a ruler, a pencil sharpener, a pair of scissors, five pencils, five pens, a box of crayons and an eraser.

Wadle, a retired speech language pathologist, and her husband Michael have taught in Tanzania, where items such as pencils and notebooks are too expensive for parents to buy for their children. Wadle said that experiencing Tanzanian students’ needs for school supplies firsthand has motivated her volunteer efforts with Lutheran World Relief.

MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton discussed the school kits, Lutheran World Relief and God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday with Wadle over the phone.

Milton: Tell me more about the school kits.

Wadle: We create the school kits for Lutheran World Relief. The kits are one of many different projects we do for them. We also make quilts, baby care kits and personal care kits for Lutheran World Relief. The kits are sent all over the world: to the poor and needy, refugee camps, third-world countries, the Houston area. Wherever there is a need, the kits are distributed.

Milton: How did you get the supplies for the kits?

Wadle: We receive a lot of donations. Our church collects all of the contents, and I have done most of the sewing to create the backpacks. All the fabric for the backpacks is donated, often repurposing fabric that people have. This year, I applied for Thrivent Action Team Funds. Thrivent is a Christian group that sells insurance, and they just started a personal program to apply for funds to help. I applied to help purchase rope for the backpacks. Rope is not something people often have or donate. We were given $250.

Milton: How has the school item collection been so far this year?

Wadle: This is the biggest collection we have had. We are hoping to fill kits for 300 school kids. On God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday on Sept. 10, Sunday school kids and adults help fill the backpacks with items in assembly-line format.

Milton: Why did you start helping with the school kit project?

Wadle: My husband Michael and I are both retired teachers, and we have both taught in Tanzania. He has been there 10 times, I’ve been there eight times. We were there for about three months at a time in the summer. While we were in Tanzania, we realized that there was a need for school supplies there. While we were there, we worked with high school teachers, called secondary school teachers there, about teaching methodology. There, they use the English method, where the teacher lectures and students regurgitate exactly what was said. We shared and partnered with the Tanzanian teachers to help them become better teachers. I also worked with the women’s ministry when I was there.

Milton: Why is helping with the project important to you?

Wadle: It was something I’ve been aware of for 20 or 25 years, but when you’re there, you see the need firsthand and helping them becomes even more important. I knew then that it was time for me to do something about it. Lutheran World Relief is a group that I trust to make sure that the materials we send get where they are supposed to go. While in Tanzania, I asked a man about receiving the school kits. He said, “Don’t ever stop sending them. They’re seen as a gift of love.”

Milton: How can people help with the school kits?

Wadle: They can help by donating items or money or by coming on God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday. After a cup of coffee after church, whoever can stay will help. They can help by packaging up the items for personal care kits, baby care kits and school kits, de-packaging the supplies that come in bulk, boxing up soap or tying quilts.

Milton: Where are the school kits sent?

Wadle: The school kits go to countries around the world in need. Leaders in our church have gone to the warehouse in Windsor, Maryland, to seal up the packages before they’re sent overseas by ship from the Baltimore Harbor. Last year, we know that some of our items were shipped to Peru.

Milton: How would you describe your church’s volunteer efforts with Lutheran World Relief?

Wadle: Our congregation has a global interest in this project, we really do care. Two weeks ago, we put the rope into the school bags. The bag gathers at the top and goes over the shoulder. When we added the rope to the bags, 31 volunteers came to help for almost two hours.

For information about the school kits or to volunteer, call First Lutheran Church at 815-758-0643.

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