This time of year, it seems, everyone focuses on back-to-school. That focus leads to area churches collecting school supplies, and in the case of Mennonite Churches, those supplies can end up at the Mennonite Central Committee Central States office in North Newton.

There, those supplies are packed into “Back to School Kits,” often in home-sewn school bags, to be shipped around the world. MCC shipped 70,652 last year to Jordan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Ethiopia, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea), the U.S., Serbia and more.

This year, however, MCC Central States is more focused on another area — “Crisis Kits.”

“We go off of what our partners are asking for. Right now, so many are in refugee camps where they are needing very, very basic hygiene needs met,” said Kate Mast, Workroom Supervisor- Material Resource Center for MCC Central States. “We will never say no to school kits, but this year our biggest request is for relief kits. School kits have been our biggest need for years, so this is kind of a shift.”

According to MCC, Multiple situations of crisis around the world such as Syria, Iraq and Ukraine have depleted MCC's warehouse inventory.  MCC needs help replenishing its supply to continue responding to needs around the world.

Each kit contains about $50 of supplies — four large bars of bath soap, a plastic bottle of shampoo four large bars of laundry soap, four adult-size tooth brushes, four new bath towels, two wide-tooth combs, a fingernail clipper, a box of adhesive bandages and a package of sanitary pads.

Each kit is packed in a plastic five-gallon bucket with a lid before being shipped out. The bucket can be used to carry water or supplies.

“They are a way that we can show love and solidarity to our brothers and sisters living in fear and in the midst of crisis and suffering,” Mast said. “Relief kits are a tangible way that we can let people know that they are not alone or forgotten.”

Every Wednesday Mast and a group volunteers are packing kits to be shipped from 130 E. 30th, North Newton, to Jordan, Syria, Iraq and the Ukraine.

“Most of these kits are being used in refugee camps in Jordan, right across the Syrian border, where many people had to flee their homes in a hurry and could only take the things their hands could carry, if anything," Mast said.

This year, MCC Central States has completed more than 785 of the kits.

“There have been many grandparents who have gathered supplies with their grandchildren this summer, as well as other individuals or couples who have collected supplies instead of birthday or wedding presents,” Mast said. “Our goal is to get as close to 1,500 relief kits by the end of the year as possible.”

They are also making, folding and shipping comforter blankets world-wide. 

“People are using them as mattresses,” Mast said. “People in tent cities are (hanging) them as privacy walls. We are making and sending comforters for them so they can have comfort.”