An “Ark” Full of Gifts for Life

Alleviating hunger is a major focus for the outreach ministries of Calvary Episcopal Church in Williamsville, NY. The congregation has a long-standing relationship with the local food bank, but last fall the rector, the Rev. Ethan Cole, challenged the outreach committee to launch a year-long project that would involve the whole parish, including children and youth.

The idea was to encourage parish groups, families and individuals to purchase animals through Episcopal Relief & Development’s Gifts for Life catalog – enough animals to fill up an ark! The Calvary’s Ark project was born, and according to the Rev. Bonnie Morris, the assistant rector and project leader, it took no time at all for people to get excited and involved.

“One member of the outreach committee asked me at the evening meeting what we wanted the artwork to be like,” she said, “so I gave him a sketch of an ark. By 8:00 a.m. the next morning, he had bought plywood and jigsawed out the shape of the ark and brought it to church!”

Once the plywood ark was firmly affixed to a wall in the fellowship hall, the project kept gaining momentum. One of the Sunday School teachers painted in the details of the ark, and Mother Bonnie put a rainbow over it with a dove coming down. The outreach team put world maps on either side of the ark so that each animal could have a string tied to a country where a family might receive it. All they needed now was the animals!

To get the project going, the outreach committee and vestry both donated animals as a group, and encouraged other parish groups to do the same. For each donated animal, Sharon Jackson, head of the outreach committee, cut its shape from construction paper and drew in the details. Mother Bonnie wrote in who donated the animal, and if it was given in honor of anyone. Then a string was tied between the animal and a country where it might help a family by providing milk or eggs or helping them work their land. Mother Bonnie explained to the congregation that although there was no way to track where each specific animal might go, she knew from Episcopal Relief & Development that chickens go to families in Zambia and Zimbabwe and goats go to Malawi and Myanmar.

Mother Bonnie explained that she really wanted the children of the congregation to grab hold of this project. The congregation’s outreach work with the Williamsville food pantry helps kids learn how the Church cares for people in need, she said, but “we wanted to show children that we care about people here, as well as people we’ll never meet, across the world.”

With encouragement from their parents and Sunday School teachers, Calvary’s young people joined the effort to fill the ark with animals. The primary school group created works of art and sold them to raise money for a goose. The senior high group held a bowl-a-thon and a bake sale to raise money for a cow, and thanks to one particularly enthusiastic group member, a hive of honey bees.

The junior high group, however, took the spirit of the Ark to heart and set a goal of raising enough funds to purchase one of every animal in the catalog! Through a bake sale (featuring group leader Mr. Maxwell’s legendary chocolate chip cookies), a craft fair with homemade Christmas ornaments, a bottle drive, a candy sale, and extra donations from relatives, the group purchased a hive of bees, a flock of chickens, a duck, a goat, a goose, a pig, two shares of a cow, and even an ox and plow.

By the end of the project in May 2012, Calvary’s youth, along with parish groups, committees, families and individuals – including Nate and Eve Zaleski, whose donated chore money purchased a goat – had raised $10,000 for Gifts for Life!

After the final tally was done, Mother Bonnie contacted Episcopal Relief & Development to let the organization know that a donation would be coming their way. Later, to her surprise, she got a call that Rob Radtke, Episcopal Relief & Development’s President, wanted to come to Calvary and receive the check in person.

During his visit, Dr. Radtke preached at Saturday and Sunday services and spent time talking to parishioners about the Calvary’s Ark project.

“Calvary’s focus on outreach sets a great example for all of us,” said Dr. Radtke. “Their actions help us ask how we can use our gifts and talents to help heal a hurting world. I am grateful to the leadership at Calvary for organizing this wonderful project, and I am exceedingly impressed with the involvement and commitment of their young people. It was really a treat to celebrate with them.”

According to Mother Bonnie, Dr. Radtke’s visit added to the excitement and feeling of success at the conclusion of the project. “It was a very special moment for the parish to have the top person of a very important organization to come and be with us for the weekend,” she said. “It was icing on the cake… We had a great time!”

Although the Calvary’s Ark project has now come to a close, outreach at Calvary remains strong, and the relationship between Calvary Episcopal Church and Episcopal Relief & Development can continue to grow. In addition to raising funds to support programs that help people improve their lives, the project also helped parishioners learn about the importance of outreach and partnership.

“We find it very important to support other organizations that have expertise to help people,” Mother Bonnie said. “We don’t know how to feed people, but the food bank does, so we support them. I don’t know how to reach a farmer in Uganda, but Episcopal Relief & Development does, so we support you.”

For more information on how your congregation can help empower people worldwide to strengthen their communities and alleviate poverty, hunger and disease, visit

Interested in participating in the Gifts for Life program? Go to to purchase animals and other life-giving items online, or visit the Episcopal Media Center at to order copies of the current catalog.