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Church's members fight back against financial squeeze

Volunteers, donors give generously to help needy

Dec. 29, 2009

Ask anyone and they'll tell you 2009 has been a tough year economically, from banks closing to companies laying off workers or going out of business completely.

But take a look at Brookfield Lutheran Church, and you'll see a sense of generosity and giving that seems to buck the trend of penny-pinching and belt-tightening.

The church on Brookfield's west side has raised tens of thousands of dollars for charities near and far this year, and hundreds of volunteers have donated their time for everything from helping Peruvian villagers build a sanctuary to delivering Thanksgiving baskets to Milwaukee-area food pantries.

The Rev. Roger Heintz said he is amazed by the work his parishioners have done this year.

"I'm just a grateful pastor who has a lot of generous and kind and giving people in my congregation, and there's definitely excitement about that," he said.

Church delivers 800 baskets

One of the most recent examples of Brookfield Lutheran's generosity came during the church's annual Thanksgiving basket program.

Since 1993, Brookfield Lutheran has assembled Thanksgiving baskets for those less fortunate. The baskets, which cost about $25 each to prepare, are delivered to a host of area churches and community organizations, as well as members of the Brookfield Lutheran community that have fallen on hard times.

Heintz said parishioners put together 12 baskets in the program's first year, but that number has since blossomed to several hundred. This year, the church was able to collect more than $19,000, and, thanks to some smart shopping and price comparisons, delivered 821 baskets.

"The success of this is based on the involvement of people who have this as a passion," Heintz said.

More than 100 volunteers stepped up to assemble the baskets in a frenzied hour of work, said Jane Mise, ministry coordinator for the Thanksgiving baskets program.

This year Mise took over the program from Don Phillips, a former Brookfield Lutheran parishioner who ran the Feed My Lambs ministry. Phillips died in October.

"It was just nice to know that Don's spirit was there and his support was there," Mise said.

Meals shipped around globe

Mise also was instrumental in the church's inaugural participation in the Feed My Starving Children program, for which Brookfield Lutheran raised $17,000 to pay for meals for hungry children around the world.

The program, established by an organization out of Minneapolis, has come up with a special meal of rice, soy, vitamins and dehydrated vegetables that costs only 17 cents to assemble, so Brookfield Lutheran's money helped make 100,000 meals for starving children across the globe.

Again, volunteers made it happen, as more than 500 people - church members and volunteers from Hillside Elementary School and Elm Grove Lutheran - came together to pack the meals, Mise said.

"What was so valuable about that was (that) the Brookfield community was involved," Heintz said.

Brookfield Lutheran is planning to participate in the program again next year.

Peru trip expands horizons

In June, 29 church members traveled to Peru to help villagers along the Ucayali River build a sanctuary. Parishioners also delivered and installed water filters, which are a crucial and potentially life-saving piece of technology in that country.

Mary Lightbody, director of education ministries at Brookfield Lutheran, said the trip was planned more than a year ago, and the sharp economic downturn raised some questions about whether the group should go or could afford to go.

But the parishioners found a way to make it work, and the two-week trip was a great success, Lightbody said.

"It was a really positive experience," she said.

Heintz said the desire to help others outweighed the cost of the trip to Peru - a considerable expense - for those parishioners who decided to make the journey. That mindset of putting others first reverberates throughout Brookfield Lutheran, he said.

"It's not, come be a part of our church so you can help us," Heintz said "It's rather, we want to be helping our communities, whether that's local or beyond."

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: Brookfield Lutheran Church

ADDRESS: 18500 W. Burleigh Road

PHONE: (262) 783-4270

ONLINE: brookfieldlutheran.org

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