Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

'Paying It Forward'

By By Anna Schulten The Message Intern
Young people participating in Shantytown work together cutting and gathering firewood for delivery to the needy.


The phrase “If you need anything, just give me a call” is becoming a reality in the parishes of St. Raphael and St. Celestine.


Grace Co-Op is the outreach ministry of St. Raphael and St. Celestine parishes in Northeast Dubois County. “Our mission is to provide opportunities for our parishioners to experience the joy that comes from cooperating with the Grace of God, said Deacon Mike Seibert. “In other words, we feel best when we know we are doing God's will, but we don't always know who or how to help. Our group puts the need out there and connects the need with people wanting to help.”


Grace Co-Op Ministry Team members include Brenda Ferguson, Denise Hohler, Joan Melton, Angie Mitchell, and Deacon Mike. The team explores ways to help in the community, and takes turns hosting and organizing various efforts. Other parishioners offer their unique skills and resources should the need arise. “We have a list of volunteers to help drive people to doctor visits, cook meals, cut firewood, deliver meals, help with yard work, home repairs and offer emergency temporary housing,” said Deacon Mike.


The idea for Grace Co-Op traces its roots back to a trip Deacon Mike took to Tennessee several years ago with some friends. An acquaintance was struggling to make ends meet, and her washer had broken down, so the group decided to all chip in to pay for a new washer. The lady promised to pay them back, but the friends refused, asking her instead to “pay it forward” the next time she had the chance. “We had experienced the Grace of God,” Deacon Mike reflected. “We were able to do something for somebody.”


After Deacon Mike moved to Celestine, “I saw the same need, and people want to help,” he said. St. Raphael and St. Celestine adopted the program, and held its first meeting in July 2011. In its first year, Deacon Mike said more than $13,000 in funds were funneled through the Grace Co-Op, and many hours of volunteering and significant non-cash donations were given.


Grace Co-Op has been involved in a number of service-based projects around the area, including but certainly not limited to donations of food, gas, and household items; provision of medical supplies and care; household maintenance; and arranging social visits for the sick and homebound. Grace Co-Op also connects people with existing organizations like Tri-Cap to help provide money for bills, firewood, and gas.


Grace Co-Op sponsors another program called “Grace Grub.” Donnie and Linda Sander, of Sander Catering, cook a little extra and regularly donate about 10 meals at a time to the cause. “Volunteers take the food to shut-ins every week,” Hohler explained, “and we’ve already crossed the 500-meal milestone in just one year. That’s a huge deal! So our community recently came together to wash/wax all of the Sanders’ delivery vans as a small thanks for all they do.”


Youth also contribute to Grace Co-Op movement. The “Make A Difference” projects, previously featured in The Message, were a series of youth-initiated activities, hosted through the Grace Co-Op. The youth were each given $5 and encouraged to grow their gift into a service project for the community. Grace Co-Op also sponsors Shantytown once a year, a program where youth learn about and experience poverty on a first-hand level by spending the night as a homeless person. During the most recent Shantytown, the youth cut and delivered 22 loads of firewood to those in need.


In addition to service-based projects, Grace Co-Op facilitates monetary donations to people in need. “If you choose, your donation can be earmarked for a specific person or project,” Deacon Mike explained. “This can be done through the Grace Co-Op anonymously, which sometimes makes it easier for others to accept financial help.”


Donations are tax deductible and can be placed in the Sunday collection at St. Raphael or St. Celestine parishes, given to a Grace Co-Op Ministry Team member, or mailed to St. Celestine Parish Office. For more information on the Grace Co-Op, contact Deacon Mike Seibert by email at .


The Grace Co-Op functions best when people initiate service projects by being attentive to the community’s needs. “Keep your eyes open for projects – large and small,” Deacon Mike said, “that we can all work on together.”