Hope Malabrigo, student chaplain, loads dozens of filled boxes for Operation Christmas Child. (Photo by Teela Ruehle, director of student missions and service, Center for Faith Engagement)

December 22, 2020

Andrews University students participate in local service projects

BERRIEN SPRINGS, Mich.—On Thursday, Nov. 12, around 400 students participated in creating care packages and Christmas presents in a variety of service projects.

In addition to working for Berrien County foster care children and local homeless individuals, the University collaborated with the Greater Youth Movement, Paris’ Purse and Operation Christmas Child.

This service opportunity took place as an activity for Pulse Groups, weekly student meetings implemented as a socially distanced chapel substitute for fall semester 2020. The projects provided a way for students to remain engaged and active in the community while following COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Teela Ruehle, director of student missions and service, explained, “We looked through the needs of our communities and reached out to the typical non-profits that we work with. We found that these needs were not just still there, they had increased. They have fewer resources than a normal year due to the pandemic, so we decided to try and do something about it!”

Students from different Pulse Groups performed various tasks to assemble the packages and Christmas presents. In a project with the Harbor of Hope SDA Church, individuals packed holiday gifts—each consisting of an educational present and personalized greeting card—for Benton Harbor children who have participated in the Greater Youth Movement (GYM). The GYM is a program that works with at-risk youth to provide them with the tools needed to overcome adversity.

A second program worked with Paris’ Purse, a ministry located in Berrien Springs. The organization works with homeless and domestic abuse shelters in Benton Harbor, empowering women who endure hardships. University students with the help of youth from Pioneer Memorial Church filled purses with cards of encouragement, basic need items, hygiene supplies and beauty products.

Another project worked with the Lake Union Conference to benefit Berrien Foster Children. Students took the time to sort books into reading levels, then chose three to four books to wrap as Christmas presents for children in foster care. Each gift was accompanied by a cheerful holiday card.

Student Missions Club, Least of These Ministries and Berean SDA Church worked together on a fourth service project targeting the homeless population in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and South Bend, Indiana. Care packages were put together by students who selected items and wrote personal notes for each gift. On Sabbath, Nov. 14, the packages were distributed by the Berean SDA Church.

In a final activity, students had the opportunity to pack Operation Christmas Child boxes for children in need. Each parcel contained a toothbrush, toothpaste, a clothing item, an educational item, a toy and a personalized card. Operation Christmas Child is a program run by Samaritan’s Purse, with the goal of spreading God’s love to children in need throughout the world. The project was a partnership with Richard Beckermeyer, DDS, in Niles, Michigan, and the Student Missions Club.

Hope Malabrigo, student chaplain, helped organize and coordinate the service opportunities. She emphasized, “These projects are important, especially now because people are going through a lot. These packages were created to show people that they are cared for and that we’re praying for them.”

In total, gifts and cards for 140 children in the Benton Harbor GYM were wrapped, 175 purses filled with health and beauty products were donated to Paris’ Purses and 75 bundles of books were wrapped for Children in Foster Care. Additionally, 130 care packages for the homeless were packed and distributed and 117 boxes were filled for Operation Christmas Child. 

Inspired by the participation that took place on campus, Teela voiced her appreciation for students who put their time into the projects, staying after to help finish wrapping and gifting. “It was awesome to see the heart of students and watch them really embrace these projects and invest their time in helping others,” she said.

Despite the difficulties brought on by the pandemic, Teela pledged a goal for continued service beyond the Andrews campus. “This year we have focused our attention on projects that seem small. We may not be able to change systems and structures quickly, but we can work to change the lives of the people around us, one at a time. These small changes are changing our world. This is what we are called to do.”

Founded in 1874, Andrews University is the flagship institution of higher education for the Seventh-day Adventist Church and offers more than 160 areas of study, including advanced degrees. Its main campus is in Berrien Springs, Michigan, but the University also provides instruction at colleges and universities in more than 25 countries around the world.

Isabella Koh, University Communication student writer