Labor of Love people from coast to coast gathered in Tampa Florida this February weekend in 2016 to plant seeds together and watch them grow. Seeds of love.
Most Labor of Love gatherings involve serving people who are complete strangers to the volunteers, but this weekend was a little different. When needs are noticed in circles close to us, we can still extend a hand to help.
We started our weekend as we often do, with a meal together – this time lovingly prepared Cuban pork and fresh fruits and vegetables, at a borrowed lodge arranged by local volunteers. Friendships renewed, we were ready to get to work!
The Tampa area is HUGE – so our group was spread out from the north to the south, more than an hour drive between work locations. In the north, a mother and her son who attend church with some Labor of Love people were buried in the belongings of a man whose brief involvement in their life had left heartache AND tens of thousands of stuffed animals in bins stacked to the ceiling in the garage and a spare room. It was simply too much for them to manage and the volume too large for nearby donation centers to accept. We rented a small dump truck and provided manpower to haul it all away, leaving a new study and prayer room behind.
Labor of Love people prepared and distributed dozens of ‘blessing bags’ for Tampa area homeless, including lunches and other comfort items, and donated supplies for an area crisis pregnancy center. We didn’t know it at the time, but this Labor of Love was the last for one of Labor of Love’s founding members, who instead of the more physical work at the two work sites, worked on pieced quilts to give away while teaching quilting to a friend and caring for the teenage son of an event organizer who wasn’t feeling well. Rhenda’s gift for caring for the volunteers made everyone feel loved.
In a suburb south of Tampa, a long time Labor of Love supporter and volunteer with mobility limited by the effects of a long-term illness (GBS) wanted to be able to garden again and wasn’t able to enjoy and maintain her backyard. We designed and built elevated raised garden beds that could be tended while seated on a rolling cart, and installed a rail for support to reach them. Several flower beds were cleared & mulched. A weed-filled patch cried out for some attention, and on a whim with the aid of another volunteer’s truck that had come all the way from Nebraska, we purchased pavers to create a patio from which our friend can watch her vegetables grow. An adjacent sunroom was also cleared and cleaned, and a few other home maintenance tasks completed.
We enjoyed wonderful fresh catch fish by the bay, sunrises and sunsets over the water, and deepened the bonds on friendship. One of the most touching memories from this first Labor of Love in Florida was when the mother and son from our Day One project drove more than an hour south on Day Two to help a stranger to them, toiling in the sun with other volunteers to help create a beautiful paved patio next to the new raised garden beds. Filled with the love they had received, they then became the help. We will not forget them, and as they all rest at home wrapped in their Labor of Love quilts, they won’t forget us.
Inspired by the actions of several members of his congregation who were among the organizers of this weekend, Pastor Tito created a sermon series titled ‘Won’t you be my neighbor?’, and invited us all to attend their Sunday service – it was a fitting end to our Labor of Love Valentine’s weekend together. When we notice the needs and wants of our neighbors and friends, and commit ourselves to meet them in their needs, seeds of friendship grow.
Won’t YOU be my neighbor?