Meeting Needs in Michigan
Brittney had just aged out of the foster care system in Flint, Michigan, and was the mother to a three-year-old when she found herself pregnant again. Facing difficulties in making ends meet, Brittney’s caseworker connected her to a program that would make all the difference for her family.
“We were able to help with some physical needs like clothing for her and the children, furniture, and a stove and fridge, all delivered for free to her apartment,” Pastor Dawn Ramirez recalls.
Dawn is the Executive Director of Little Lamb’s Compassionate Ministry Center. When a family like Brittney’s finds themselves with unmet needs, Little Lamb’s is there. The center, which is an outreach of West Flint Church of the Nazarene, was originally created in 2005 with the mission to spread both hope and resources to families in Michigan.
Little Lamb’s provides needed baby and child items including clothing for children from birth through the teen years and diapers, toys, and furniture. Parents of newborns can sign up for classes related to safe sleep practices and safe car seat installation. Every Wednesday the West Flint Church partners with Little Lamb’s to provide a free meal for families, followed by a program for children while parents shop for free at the Little Lamb’s store.
From the beginning of the ministry, when it was called the Little Lamb’s Closet, Dawn says that she and the team from the church created a space that would function as a boutique for families in need.
“It was important from the start to treat the parents who would be coming to us with the utmost respect and that included making sure they would be comfortable when they walked into the closet,” she says.
Over time the ministry grew, the volunteer staff grew, and eventually, as more of the community utilized its services, Little Lamb’s was moved to a new building and became a 501c3 nonprofit corporation. Currently, Little Lamb’s ministers to 250 to 275 children each month, along with their parents, grandparents, foster parents, and caseworkers.
When emergencies happen or when families are unable to travel to get the help they need, the ministry goes to them. For several years, Little Lamb’s has operated a mobile emergency response vehicle, which they refer to as MERV. It allows volunteers to take items straight to people in crisis, and they offer this vehicle to visit schools, churches, or community events. The vehicle also equips Little Lamb’s to join first responders when emergencies, like house fires, displace families. The original MERV was lost to a fire in August 2016, and funds were raised to cover the cost of a new MERV 2.0 that is again bringing hope and help to members of their community.
The volunteer staff and board members for the ministry come from a variety of backgrounds in the Flint community. Many West Flint church members are still involved regularly, and short-term volunteers come from other churches or school groups. Other groups or agencies commit time to serve throughout the year as projects come up. Recently, a life group of teen boys from a sister church decided to spend one Saturday a month doing bicycle repairs for the Little Lamb’s bike distribution program.
Even more volunteer hours come from people who need community service time, moms who have been recipients of the Little Lamb’s resources, and high school students logging volunteer service for graduation. Dawn comments, “There's always something to be organized, sorted, laundered, repaired, batteries installed, or data to enter!”
Over the years the volunteers at Little Lamb’s kept in contact with Brittney. They helped her with other needs, too, like tutoring in math and reading as she began studying at the local community college. Some volunteers came alongside her to coach her in grocery shopping on a budget and cooking healthy meals. Then they journeyed with her through wedding and baby showers, college graduation, Bible studies, and church baby dedications. Many put in hours of labor on her Habit for Humanity home. Now, Brittney has overcome much of her early years and is a registered nurse.
“As much as we may have blessed Brittney, she has been just as much— if not more—of a blessing to all of us,” says Dawn.
The need for support is always present for compassionate ministry centers like Little Lamb’s. One area of ongoing need in the West Flint community is cribs for new parents. After seeing the stats on infant deaths in their county and state due to unsafe sleep, the staff at Little Lamb’s decided to work with “Cribs for Kids,” a national program that enables the ministry to purchase new pack-n-plays with bassinets, mattress, sheets, and a carrying bag at half of the regular retail price. Then, they can provide families with a safe space for their new baby to sleep in for free.