It can be intimidating, as a new campus minister, to think about campus outreach. Where’s the highest foot traffic place to table? Collar or no collar? How will people react (especially if they’ve been hurt by the church before)? What do you even do at a table?
Offering Support During Finals
One of the most gentle and well-received ways we’ve found to do outreach is to offer DIY Finals Week Survival Kits. It’s the pinnacle of our year-round effort to give free things away on campus and it’s an easy way to give folks a perk-up during the weirdest and hardest part of an already weird and hard year. We spent some time last fall thinking about how we could engage with students who have been through a lot the past few years and who maybe need to know there are people rooting for them! We heard from several students that these past two years were hard, and honestly wanted to bring some joy to campus and a listening ear too if that is needed. We remembered what it was like to get care packages ourselves in college and how comforting and encouraging that gift was. It is truly a joy to watch students burdened with stress and many other emotions come up to the table and smile with relief when they hear that they can take free stuff!
So you may be wondering to yourself, how do I do this on the campus I serve? It’s really quite easy! There’s just a few steps…
Step 1. Reserve a spot on a busy part of campus.
Each college will do it differently, for sure, and you have to find what works for you and what the needs of the students you serve are. We reserve a spot through the student activities office and then get a loaner folding table from them. We set up outside of the University Center — it’s in the middle of campus, next to the quad, and also the location of the dining hall. We aim for lunchtime (11:30am to 1:00pm-ish) on the first two days of finals week to get the most people.
Step 2. Get your supplies!
The sky’s the limit here, genuinely. We’ve done all kinds of stuff. Snacks are a big hit: granola bars, chips, fruit snacks, chocolate, instant coffee, tea bags (such a hit), hot chocolate pouches. Folks also love fidget objects: mini playdohs, mini slinkies, little wind-up toys, etc. — the party favor section of Target is great (the novelty food-themed pencil erasers generated quite a buzz, weirdly!!!). We also added some travel sized toiletries into the mix: toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitizer, and so on. Helpful, too, to make a generous estimate and buy medium sized gift bags for folks to use in assembling their kit. Finally, we did a whole bunch of hand-written cards — your students can help with these — just offering some words of encouragement for finals, and folks thought they were very sweet.
Step 3. Dot some i’s and cross some t’s, branding-wise.
We ordered a vinyl banner (4’x2′ or 6’x3′) that said who we are and what we’re doing to attach (duct tape, lol) to the table. We also had business cards printed up with the name of our ministries, some contact information (campus minister email and voicemail), and a QR code for our instagram. We added a pride flag to our cards to assuage any suspicion, and put a card in each gift bag before we handed them out.
Step 4. Do the actual tabling!
“Hey, do you wanna make a finals week survival kit?” “Yeah, yeah, it’s free!” “Just take a bag and you can have at most one thing from each bin.” “So how’s your finals week looking?” “Oh sure, sure, yeah, well one way or another it’ll be over in four days!” “Oh my gosh, I know, I love the Ring Pops too, I didn’t even know they still sold them.” “Those are just little hand-written notes of encouragement if you need some…. yeah of course you can have two of those.” “Yeah, not a problem, good luck on your finals!”
It’s such a sweet and gentle time. Pretty much everybody is genuinely excited and surprised that anybody would be giving stuff away for free, just because it’s nice, and they’re sometimes surprised that we’re Christian. It’s hard to know what it’ll yield (although let’s challenge the idea that yield is the goal outcome of doing a nice thing for stressed out students) but also we get to believe that folks will file away our cards and be in touch if they’re feeling like they need someone to talk to or are wondering about a cool group of nice people to join.
Our two campus ministries — the Episcopal-Lutheran Campus Ministry (also called “The House”) and the Campus Christian Community (“the CCC”) partner doing this ministry and the final cost ends up being about $200-250 per ministry including supplies, cards, and a banner. It’s been a fun way for our two ministries to grow closer, to build some confidence in doing campus outreach, and to germinate new relationships with some students we wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise.
Photos provided by authors.