Church: Willmar UMC
District: North Star
Submitted by: Jackie Svejkovsky
In planning activities that fit the theme of this year’s vacation Bible school, “Down on the Farm,” Willmar United Methodist Church Education Director Jackie Svejkovsky thought it would be great if the congregation would contribute $120, enough money to donate one pig through Heifer International—an organization that provides animals and training to needy families worldwide to help them become self-reliant.
The financial goal aligned perfectly with what the kids learned in vacation Bible school, which took place two mornings a week for six weeks between mid-June and late July—a change from the consolidated program from past years so that the leaders could get to know the kids better and keep church a focus for a longer period. During that time span, the children learned about animals and how they are used as gifts.
They got to eat root vegetables, see how ants and bees are vital to plants and ground nutrients, taste honey from a local beekeeper, milk a goat, feed a baby calf, see how fast a two-month-old pig could run, help weed the Care Ministries garden, see how wool straight off a sheep was spun, tour the Swanke Tractor Museum of Willmar, and finish off with a field trip to the A maze n Farm in Eden Valley.
Throughout the six weeks, the children were asked to collect coins to place in one of five piggy banks, each of which was affiliated with a different church staff member. The staff person whose piggy bank collected the most money would kiss a pig to celebrate the gift that the church would give to Heifer International.
After the fundraiser had started, an anonymous donor got into the spirit and offered to provide matching funds if Willmar UMC raised $2,500, half the cost of a whole ark of animals—or two of each of the 30-plus animals that Heifer International works with.
When the church’s leaders presented the challenge to members, “it kind of just snowballed,” says Svejkovsky. “The congregation got into it.”
The church asked some local businesses for donations, which helped, and Willmar UMC’s roughly 300 members gave generously, knowing that their gifts would make a difference to people who needed it most.
In the end, the church exceeded the $2,500 it needed to raise for the matching gift, collecting $3,088.12 (and Svejkovsky’s piggy bank had the most money, meaning she was the lucky person who had to kiss the pig). The anonymous donor was apparently pleased, upping his (or her) contribution by another $5,000.
Earlier this week, Willmar UMC mailed a check for $10,588.12 to Heifer International. That money will buy two arks full of animals, plus five more pigs.
The lesson that Svejkovsky took from this experience?
“I don’t think you have to be a big congregation to do big things,” she says. “They’re really into their mission. They’re into their children. They’re alive as they can be for as small as they are.”
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church