Small Change May Seem Like Chicken-scratch, But It Adds Up!

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, Florida, celebrated Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday this year by entertaining two very special guests named Julia and Martha. Julia and Martha visited the Godly Play students (ages three to eight) to share a meal, get to know each other and raise awareness about the impact of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Gifts for Life program. In addition to their official duties, Julia and Martha also got a chance to spend some one-on-one time interacting with the kids, and even led a tutorial on tried-and-true wing-flapping techniques. That’s right, wing-flapping – Julia and Martha happen to be chickens.

Backyard chicken farmer and St. Mark’s parishioner Meg Grimes brought Julia and Martha to liven up the kick-off event for the Godly Play Lenten fundraising campaign. Every year during Lent, the Godly Play students raise money for Episcopal Relief & Development by collecting change in their hand-decorated Hope Chests. In 2012 they learned about malaria from Rita Mosquito and raised $550 to support the organization’s NetsforLife® partnership. This was enough to “purchase” 45 mosquito nets, which local volunteers in sub-Saharan African communities distribute along with information about how to prevent malaria and stay healthy.

This year, the children decided to set a goal of $630, enough to purchase a dairy cow from Episcopal Relief & Development’s Gifts for Life catalog. The focus of Episcopal Relief & Development’s 2013 Lenten Meditations is on hunger and abundance, so what could be better! A cow can produce nutritious dairy products for a family in need, helping children to grow strong and generating income that can be invested in housing, education or a small business.

In addition to donations from parents and parishioners and extra change from couch cushions, the kids at St. Mark’s have decided to set up a lemonade stand to give them an extra boost toward meeting their goal. Members of the congregation are encouraged purchase animals of their own from the Gifts for Life catalog – a flock of chickens for $135, a goat for $80 or a “splurge” gift of two oxen and a plow for $1,400. A bulletin board has been set up in the parish hall with a picture of Noah’s Ark and a handprint rainbow, and whenever enough money is raised to buy an animal, the children will make an arts-and-crafts version for the ark. They are hoping that by the end of the Lenten season, they will have a full boat!

“Our children continue to amaze and inspire us with their genuine desire to help others,” said Margaret Cavin, the Godly Play coordinator at St. Mark’s. “I’ve loved hearing stories from parents about their children’s efforts to raise funds. One student emptied his entire piggy bank so that he could be sure to contribute a mosquito net last year. I’ve already heard parents say that any bit of change found in their home or car has been scooped up and deposited in a mite box. We can’t wait to see how much the children will raise!”

Gifts for Life is Episcopal Relief & Development’s alternative giving program, which allows donors to buy or gift items like ducks, vaccinations, meals for school children and even whole community gardens. The donation amount for each item also includes training and other support to ensure that the gift will make a lasting change – animal husbandry courses for recipients of farm animals, education for community health workers and mentoring for community agriculture projects.

Although these alternative gifts are available year-round, they make wonderful Christmas presents and are featured at many Episcopal churches during the Advent season. In December, for example, St. Mark’s holds their annual Advent and Alternative Giving Fair, where parishioners can visit a booth to learn about the Episcopal Relief & Development’s work and purchase Gifts for Life and Bishops Blend Christmas Boxes.

St. Mark’s also supports Episcopal Relief & Development year-round by donating to the organization’s disaster response efforts. In 2012, they raised funds to help those impacted by Hurricane Sandy and the Midwestern tornadoes.

“I am very grateful to the leaders at St. Mark’s in Jacksonville, and especially to our parish representative there, Michael Magevney, for all their work to keep Episcopal Relief & Development in the minds and hearts of their fellow parishioners,” said Pamela Penn, the organization’s Program Officer for Engagement. “I am especially impressed with the children of the congregation, who are so enthusiastic about supporting our work! We love working with Godly Play and children’s ministries and seeing all the creative ways teachers and students are engaging with our mission. Thank you!”

Photos courtesy of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, FL