By Brett Hetherington*
When you think of school in Africa you might not associate it with squash or gourds. But the youth at Carrolton First United Methodist Church (Ohio Valley District) found a way to incorporate pumpkins into a fundraising project for the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign, and it netted them so much more than simple dollars and cents.
“As a youth group, we have been exploring how Jesus calls us to serve and be servants, so it was perfect when our church Missions Director Ellyn Dunlap and Pastor Kimberly came up with the idea for the youth to have a pumpkin sale as a fundraiser for the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign to raise money for the women’s dorm at Africa University,” said Director of Youth Ministries Lisa Baker.
“We have a family farm and a lot of pumpkins,” shared the Rev. Kimberly Arbaugh. “We had a deal. The kids in the youth group could sell our pumpkins and all of the proceeds would go toward the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign.”
So, on the last Sunday in September, the kids in the youth group trekked out to the Arbaugh farm to pick and clean the pumpkins. The youth group shared a picnic lunch and was able to spend time in the Arbaugh’s corn maze as a team-building event. The pumpkins were then transported to Baker’s garage to be stored for the week until they were sold at the church the following Sunday.
“We had been advertising so people would be encouraged to not go out and buy pumpkins in other ways,” said Arbaugh. It was a rainy Sunday, but the kids did not mind, and were happy to serve.
“People pulled up into the parking lot and we sold pumpkins for $5 a pumpkin. 100% of the proceeds went to Teach • Reach • Bless, and we sold around 140 to 150 pumpkins right after our service,” explained Arbaugh. “Then we went over to The Bridge (Carrolton UMC’s satellite campus) and sold pumpkins there. In the end we were left with only about six pumpkins.”
Baker added “The pumpkins were generously donated by the farm, and the sale was such a success. We were so excited to make $850! Not only will the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign benefit, but the youth had the opportunity to benefit by seeing God use their efforts to help others.”
Carrolton UMC had set a goal of raising $20,000 over the course of three years when Bishop Malone introduced the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign in 2019. “Our goal was to be full in two years to get matching grants that have been offered,” Arbaugh shared. “Obviously not knowing COVID was going to happen, that made raising money a little bit more difficult.” But the church has not allowed the pandemic to be a deterrent to its efforts. “With COVID you have had to be creative in how you raise money.”
Arbaugh shared that creativity was a driving force in the youth getting involved. “The youth group was tossing around ideas, and asking questions like ‘what can we do, how can we be a part of it?’ We have to be careful with spaghetti dinners or any kind of fundraiser like that. This was an easy COVID-friendly thing they could do, and the congregation was very supportive of it.”
The youth went out of their way to encourage the congregation’s support. They dried pumpkins before loading them into people’s cars. They loaded them up into people’s cars, so they didn’t have to get out in the rain. They willingly stood out in the parking lot in the rain and towel-dried the pumpkins. And not all of the students are from Carrolton.
“Our associate pastor has an exchange student from Pakistan who went on the day they picked the pumpkins and said, ‘that was one of the best things I have done since I have been to the States!” shared Arbaugh. She continued with some insight into the hearts of these youth.
“I’m proud of the youth, that they have stepped up and have done this; that they have seen the importance of not only doing it together as a group and taking part in something the church feels is important but supporting the church and getting on board with the program. The fact that they felt a part enough of the congregation to do it and they put the work and the sweat equity into it.”
The credit does not end with the youth. Arbaugh continued to point toward strong leadership that helped to make this success happen. “We are so blessed to have our phenomenal youth leader who is a full-time middle school teacher. Sometimes you have to go above and beyond, and she really does give of her time to help make an impact on the lives of those kids.”
Picking the pumpkins this youth group had a fantastic time on a gorgeous day. You could not have asked for a better day. But perhaps the fellowship, the team building, and being involved in the larger mission of the local church – taking ownership of the Carrolton UMC’s stake in the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign – was as much of a benefit as the money raised to support female students at Africa University.
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.