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Soup maker nourishes Red Bird Mission through label program

1/16/2004 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

A UMTV report is available.

A UMC.org Report By Heather Peck Stahl*

For more than 30 years, United Methodist churches have supported Red Bird Mission in rural Kentucky by donating Campbell's Soup labels.

Through the Campbell's Soup Co.'s Labels for Education program, Red Bird Mission can exchange soup labels for much-needed equipment and supplies that help support its ministries.

Since 1921, Red Bird Mission in Beverly, Ky., has helped meet the spiritual, educational and health needs of those living in the southeastern part of the state. The ministry exists in large part because of the support of churches of various denominations, but programs like Campbell's help fill the gaps.

The 14,000 labels collected in 1974, the program's first year, are a far cry from last year's 1.25 million labels. Over the years, the mission has earned seven minivans, 15 passenger vans and various school supplies.

More than half of the adults in the mission do not have a high school education, and 50 percent of the labor force is unemployed, according to Brian Barker, director of mission giving for Red Bird Mission.

"The fact that people from at least 35 states, mostly United Methodists, are mailing us their Campbell's labels illustrates the power of the connectional church," Barker says. "A bunch of people joined together to do a simple thing to make a huge difference in our community.

"The labels allow us to buy items we would otherwise not be able to afford; and (the program) frees us to use financial donations for community outreach, such as food, clothing and shelter," he says.

The vans, which cost between 1 million and 1.5 million Campbell's Soup labels each, are used for school-related trips for the church-sponsored Red Bird Mission School. They also provide transportation for those who can't drive, for volunteers to deliver meals to senior citizens and for medical caregivers.

In addition, the vans transport crafts made by Red Bird residents to raise money for the mission, and they ferry supplies for volunteers who are repairing homes or serving Red Bird residents in other ways.

"Most people don't realize how critical these vans are to us," says Tracy Nolan, director of community outreach. "Without the vans, we would have no means to conduct most of our ministries. In just home delivery of meals alone, we must drive 160 miles each day; and that's only a fraction of what we use them for.

"Each time someone sends in a label," she says, "he or she is helping provide transportation for a meal to a family, a homeless person to receive shelter, a sick person to see a doctor or pick up medications, an adult to get to GED classes, or a shut-in to find friendships at a senior center."

Nolan recalls how one of the vans was recently used for more than transportation. While delivering groceries to a local couple, a volunteer learned that the couple's trailer had no water, electricity or bathrooms. "If it weren't for our transportation ministry, we wouldn't have known this couple needed help because they never once mentioned it to us. We were able to help them get a septic tank, electricity and a new trailer."

In addition to the vans, Campbell's Soup labels have helped the Red Bird Mission School receive much-needed supplies that the school otherwise could not have afforded, such as an aquarium, library books, balls, videos and cassettes.

Tara Saylor, who has been teaching high school business education classes for six years at the school, recently received a TV-VCR for her classroom.

The TV-VCR allows her students to watch subject-related videos and learn how to make PowerPoint presentations, she says. "My kids are so excited. The TV-VCR has opened up all new possibilities in learning, and I'm so happy to see the students' minds open. I'm so grateful for the Campbell's Soup labels to have given us this wonderful gift."

While the 250 students at Red Bird Mission School pay on a sliding scale ranging from $8 to $51 a month, the school has an operating budget of $1.5 million a year. Red Bird relies heavily on financial donations for day-to-day upkeep.

Every day, one to 10 volunteers sort, count and prepare the labels for redemption at the Red Bird Clinic. Once a year in the spring, the labels are boxed in groups of 70,000 and placed on wrapped pallets. Red Bird Mission then pays between $300 and $500 to ship the labels to the redemption center.

In addition, Red Bird Mission collects General Mills box tops and Tyson Foods' Project A+ labels. People interested in supporting the ministry can mail certificates and labels to: Red Bird Mission, Attn.: Fran Woodworth, HC 69 Box 700, Beverly, KY 40913.

Donations to the Red Bird Mission School can be made through the denomination's Advance for Christ and His Church. Checks can be made payable to Advance GCFA, designated for Advance No. 773728-4, and sent to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit-card donors can call (888) 252-6174.

For more information, contact Barker at (606) 598-3155 or gifts@rbmission.org.

*Stahl is a freelance journalist and editor in Nashville, Tenn.


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