Kids Get Their Goats

The youth at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Marco Island, Florida, have a winning formula that’s helped them reach out to people worldwide. Putting together live music, tasty food and a good cause, the group of about 15 youngsters recently held its second coffeehouse evening to benefit Episcopal Relief & Development. The event was so popular, the venue had to be changed to accommodate the crowd – and the kids raised enough money to purchase eight goats for families in need through the agency’s Gifts for Life catalog.

Youth director Peggy Totten explained that St. Mark’s holds monthly coffeehouses, hosted by various church groups. This year, the youth decided to use one of the evenings to raise funds for goats. Putting their creativity to work, they made signs and posters promoting the “Give a Goat” coffeehouse and planned the refreshments – including goat cheese, cajeta (Mexican goat milk fudge) and goat milk chocolate sauce. Peggy’s husband, Shane, who is a middle-school art and guitar teacher, took charge of the music and invited some of his own students to join the youth group members in performing.

As the day drew near, it became clear that the event would be too large to fit in the ministry center, the usual venue. Normally the coffeehouses attract about 15 to 25 guests, Peggy said. As word spread about the youths’ event and purpose, though, more and more people from the church and community expressed interest in attending, and the location was changed to the parish hall.

On the big night, more than 75 guests—three times as many as usual—showed up at the coffeehouse. “Some of the parents dropped their kids off and left because the kids didn’t want them there, but they came back later and sneaked in,” Peggy recalled with a laugh. “At the end, the kids were proud that their parents came back.” Throughout the evening, Shane and the young musicians sang and played a variety of pop and rock tunes on guitar, ukulele and piano. In between selections, Peggy shared about the goat project with the audience and explained how the animals help provide a source of food and income for people in poverty.

Over in the display area, the goat milk treats were offered on a table, surrounded by stuffed goats, Gifts for Life catalogs, and collection baskets with signs informing customers, “Your donation helps fund goats.” The star of the event was a two-week-old goat, brought by a local family of farmers, which received continuous admiration and cuddles.

The coffeehouse was a win-win for everyone. Music lovers were blessed, including the Rev. Dr. Kyle Bennett, Rector of St. Mark’s, who wrote in the parish newsletter, “Friday night was about the gift of music.” Children were delighted at the chance to pet a real baby goat. And the youth found that guests donated some $800 – enough to purchase eight goats for families in need.

This year’s event was an even bigger hit than their last one, through which the kids raised over $600 for NetsforLife®, Episcopal Relief & Development’s program partnership to fight malaria. For that coffeehouse, the youth put together a display with a life-sized, four-foot-tall doll and some netting, along with a recording of “incredibly annoying” mosquito buzzing. (Peggy noted that with the church’s island location, “People here can really relate to the problem of mosquitoes.”)

Fresh from their most recent success, the kids are already looking ahead to their third fundraiser. “Next year, we’re thinking of buying sheep!” Peggy said. That event promises to be a hit, as it too will feature a mini petting zoo. Peggy explained that the family of goat farmers, who were visitors at the church, “were so impressed with the youth and the turnout of the event, they volunteered to come out with sheep or chickens next year, depending on what we decide.”

“Goats are one of the most popular items in the Gifts for Life catalog, and the St. Mark’s youth made the most of that appeal with their unique coffeehouse,” said Judy Sawler, Manager of Direct Marketing at Episcopal Relief & Development. “Thank you for your creativity and effort, and for this generous gift of goats that will enable eight families to increase their income and live healthier lives. We look forward to hearing about your next event!”


Photos: Top – Youth perform for a crowd of 75-plus at the Give a Goat Coffeehouse. Left column and bottom center – A baby goat was the highlight of the event. Bottom left – Shane Totten leads the young musicians. Bottom right – Goat milk goodies entice customers to the display table. Courtesy of Peggy Totten