Boutique blesses Boundary region

When there’s a need in the neighbourhood, who do you call? In Grand Forks, B.C., the answer is Karren Donald of Gospel Chapel. On full-time staff at the church, Donald’s title is community care coordinator – and the community has noticed.
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The Boundary Women’s Coalition nominated her as “Outstanding Woman” in 2008 for her many efforts to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the region. Gospel Chapel volunteer Leona Sharkey was also nominated.

Three years ago, Donald began volunteering at Blessings Boutique, Gospel Chapel’s free clothing “store,” which carries donated garments for children from newborn to age 12. Having been a single mother herself, she understood the pressures and needs the patrons face, and she channeled her experience into new ways of serving the community.

The ministry took off and Donald joined the church staff. The ministry is more than running, says Donald; “the Lord has us on roller skates.”

In addition to once-monthly shopping and free lunch, attended by 10–15 families, the boutique is open every Thursday afternoon, and a fellowship meeting has been started.

More than clothing

“We noticed some mothers needed more,” says Donald. Enter BBAM Mom’s Morning Out: 30 mothers registered for a weekly gathering from 9:30–12:30 during the school year. Childcare is provided while the mothers enjoy social interaction, a devotional, a craft, and a full meal. A local flower shop donates flowers for the tables to make the event special.

Many of the women who attend the Blessings Boutique are single mothers, or from low-income two-parent families, but some are widows or older women seeking connection with other women. “I love the Blessings Boutique and I try to bring a friend whenever I go,” says patron Sue Hacke.

The three programs use about 40 volunteers, mostly from Gospel Chapel, but also some from the local Pentecostal church and wider community. Some of the patrons help by sorting clothes or doing behind-the-scenes work. “It’s important to us that front-line workers be believers,” says Donald. “We want them to be available if people ask questions.”

Since the program began, four mothers have made a commitment for Christ, and some of the families have begun attending Sunday services at Gospel Chapel.

The ministry has blessed her family, says Tracey Austin. “All communities need a church to do this.” This May, Boundary Community Church in neighbouring Midway started a ministry modelled on Gospel Chapel’s, to serve the west end of the valley.

Donald’s community outreach doesn’t end with the boutique. She maintains a food cupboard and a supply of diapers and baby formula at the church for those unable to access the foodbank in a crisis. An arrangement with a local grocery store allows people to charge milk to the church.

During the summers, Donald supplies local pastors with a traveller’s kit, stocked with soap, some food, and Our Daily Bread, for people who need a little help while passing through the valley. She also runs a bread and vegetable program connecting people in need with surplus bread from bakeries and donated garden produce.

“[This] assistance and caring has helped to keep me healthier in a very trying time in my life,” says one patron. “One day, when I can, I will pass [this] kindness on to someone in need as I was.”

Karla Braun

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