The Great Rake and Run Easy Outreach Idea! | UMC YoungPeople
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October 2017

The Great Rake and Run Easy Outreach Idea!

By Neal Bowes

As we were driving by, we saw a man raking his sizeable yard. His wife was weeding while his 2-year-old was toddling around. We all jumped out of the vans. He was suddenly surrounded by 14 raking partners. Nobody said anything to him until we were about done. He had no idea what was going on. It was amazing.

The rake and run idea is simple: We pile in vans, in mid-November, looking for yards that need raking. When we find one, we jump out, rake the yard, and try to get away without the homeowner realizing we had been there. We leave behind only a yard sign that identifies our group as the perpetrators of the goodwill. The sign says that we hope they now have some additional time to spend with their family, and indicates that we are not looking for a donation.

I said your kids will get excited, and they will, if you sell it right. With our middle schoolers, we tell them to be quick and quiet so we can get away without the homeowner calling the cops. The adults know that’s unlikely to happen in our community, but the middle schoolers believe every word of it! We even leave the vans running with the doors open–so that we can make a quick getaway if the police show up! (wink) It’s a lot of fun. One kid, last year, exclaimed, “This is like ‘Good Samaritan’ crime!” Eh, sure.

We don’t always get away clean. We’ve been caught a few times. Once or twice, we’ve been told they have a lawn service coming, so thanks, but no thanks. But most of the time, getting caught is great. The homeowner comes out to talk to us, sometimes with leftover Halloween candy in tow. It’s nice for them to see that, despite what the local newspaper leads you to believe, there really are decent kids in their town. And it makes a great story to tell.

In recent years, we’ve changed things up a little bit. Rather than choosing yards completely at random, we now ask our congregation to nominate homes via an online form. They know which of their neighbors are less physically able to rake their leaves, and that helps us better direct our efforts.

Our yard signs have changed, too. We used to print them on 8.5”x11” cardstock and attach plastic forks to the bottoms with duct tape. The forks could be pushed down into the grass and hold the signs in place. But now that this has become an annual event, we’ve invested in some nicer signs, printed on corrugated plastic with a wire stake. will print one hundred 12”x18” single-color signs for 89 cents each. The wire frames are another 89 cents each. There are smaller quantities available for slightly higher prices.

If you would like to add the “Great Rake-N-Run” to your fall schedule, I have included an announcement slide graphic for you to use. Our high school group makes a full day of their Rake-N-Run. Right after worship, they have lunch together, and then they hit the streets. It’s dark by 5:00 here, in November, so they head over to one of our member’s homes for a bonfire and share the stories of the day. Then we talk about what it means to love your neighbor.

Neal has had the privilege of being in ministry with the youth at Jesse Lee for the last 15 years. He also works through the New York Annual Conference to train and support volunteer youth workers in local churches. He loves speaking at youth gatherings--group retreats or conference-wide events.