LINCOLN (SNR) - As Saint Michael Church in Lincoln has grown, so has the parish’s need to reach out to the growing congregation. In addition to the new elementary school that opened last fall and plans to build a new, larger church, the parish has an active technology initiative.
"In our society, the easiest and fastest way to reach anybody is technology," reasoned Mary Ann Miller, a fairly new member of the parish who serves as a coordinator for the technology group.
Beyond the need for a new web site and working on ways to connect parishioners through modern technology, the group has developed a pair of unique stewardship programs that they hope will help pay off debt, build a larger church and finance Saint Michael Elementary School.
The first is a system for collecting donated objects from parishioners to be sold online through eBay or Craig’s List.
"We focus on items that can be sold online and easily shipped or easily delivered," said Mrs. Miller.
Collectibles, antiques, art and other items of some value are sorted, photographed, researched and then listed on the Internet commerce sites. When sold, volunteers pack up the item and ship it to the new owner, while the proceeds go straight into the parish’s general fund.
Mrs. Miller stressed that the items that are donated for the parish’s Internet sales are in a different category as those that would be donated to Catholic Social Services.
"We focus on things that may not fit into their paragon," she said. "We don’t take clothing or other small items like that."
The idea for the second program sprang out of the first.
"We can always make money on the donated items, but you can never get enough items," said Mrs. Miller. "Someone [in the group] said, ‘I wish we just had one small item we could sell again and again,’ and another one of the team members said, ‘What about books?’"
Books made sense. Most people have quite a number of books that they wouldn’t mind donating to a worthy cause.
With a little discussion and planning, the technology group had a plan to sell used books via five different Internet booksellers. Parishioners eagerly embraced the idea and to date have donated more than 5,000 books to launch the program.
However, that’s not the only source that the parish intends to tap into. Using locking totes donated by parishioners Ryan and Julie Funke, who own a shredding service called Paper Tiger, the parish is preparing to set up collection sites at area businesses as well.
Parishioners Jason and Julie Sellers, who work for Nebraska Printing, donated printing for the totes and other marketing materials. The message is, "You can build a bright future, one book at a time," a reference to the portion of proceeds that will be used to support Saint Michael elementary school.
Parishioner Paul Zoz donated a bevy of computer equipment, including a laptop and scanners. Each book has an ISBN number that volunteers scan into a software program.
The book is then is assigned an identifying number and shelved in chronological order, while the software automatically uploads the title and price to the five bookselling sites.
"We put it out there as one penny under the lowest existing price," Mrs. Miller said. "We can underbid everybody else out there, because we can sell a book for 50 cents and still make profit for it."
This operation quickly outgrew the cubicle-sized space that had been allotted to it. So, the Funkes offered space in their new commercial building, including shelving, electricity, Internet access and more. They also provide free shredding for any donated book that isn’t sellable.
Many people in the parish are getting involved. Members of the Altar Society and School Family Association are volunteering to pack and label books for shipping. The parish’s Knights of Columbus Council #10913 are picking donated books from the area businesses or private citizens with large collections.
Mrs. Miller is optimistic about the program and encouraged other parishes to find their own objects to sell. She noted that Saint Michael Parish’s plan is viable because it offers a solution to a common problem (getting rid of unwanted books), while raising funds for the church.
"We are providing a good service, because we are recycling books," she said. "Some are wanted in lots of other communities, so the real revenue source is coming from outside of the Lincoln community."
As the first books are scanned and prepared for sale this week, Mrs. Miller complimented the group for developing this program. Including Shannon Dusenberry, Jeff Geiger, Melissa Kolm, Katie Miller, Charlie Nezinger, Nate Rempe and Erin Stueven.
"This is a team effort," said Mrs. Miller. "It would not have happened if they had not been creative and innovative."