Putting the fun in fundraising

September 30, 2020 by Emily Enders Odom

That onetime staple in every youth pastor’s toolkit — the Polaroid scavenger hunt — is getting a makeover and making a comeback.

And during a pandemic, no less.

“When I was trying to think of fun, connectional things our congregation could do separately, yet together, while staying in our cars with our families for safety, I remembered back when Polaroid scavenger hunts were so big,” said Sheri Dittman, commissioned pastor for First Presbyterian Church in Brownsville, Texas, and part-time coordinator for Congregational Development for First Presbyterian Church in Mission, Texas. “Now that pretty much everybody has a cellphone, I thought why not have each ‘quaran-team,’ in their own cars, receive the ‘hunt’ list, and then travel around at a social distance taking pictures of items on the list, all representing the Presbyterian Giving Catalog, then sending them to one person to keep track?”

It was a photo scavenger hunt — with a purpose.

What was purposeful about it was that Dittman, a faithful follower of the Presbyterian Giving Catalog since 2015, had set an ambitious goal for both congregations she serves, namely, to buy their way through the entire catalog, which offers a total of 44 gift options organized into seven categories of need and interest in the U.S. and around the world.

Now in its seventh year, the Presbyterian Giving Catalog — which is available both in print and online — is filled with gifts that provide real and positive impact, including aid for refugees, education scholarship funds for communities of color, access to clean water and ways to end hunger.

For the two scavenger hunts — held on Aug. 29 in Brownsville and Sept. 19 in Mission — each of the required photos on the participants’ lists corresponded to an item featured in the catalog, such as livestock or a community garden. Upon locating the listed item and snapping the photo, each team then prayed a prayer written by Dittman or taken from the Giving Catalog to address the corresponding situation. Prior to the hunt, teams had recruited sponsors from the two congregations, each of whom agreed to pay $5 for each photo with all proceeds going to the catalog. Once all the money was collected, the children of each church chose which catalog items to donate.

“In every children’s message, program, or ministry, my goal is to help the children in my congregations to think beyond themselves and toward others,” Dittman said. “The Presbyterian Giving Catalog is our modern-day Sears Christmas Catalog, only now not for ourselves, but for others. This is a good way for us to think of others, not only in our community or only in our country, but around the world and how we can make a difference $25 at a time.”

In addition to raising money for neighbors in need, the children also learned some surprising things as a result of the activity.

“My favorite part was taking a picture at the canal,” said Belle Christoffersen, an elementary schooler from the Mission church. “I learned that not everyone in the United States has clean water.”

Because a latrine is a featured item in the catalog, Dittman had described water in the children’s handout as “a precious commodity that we in the U.S. sometimes take for granted.”

“It never dawned on our kids that even in the U.S. there are many people who are without running water, which includes indoor plumbing and things like where their next bath is going to come from,” she said.

For one of the photos, Jaycee Acosta, an elementary school student from the Brownsville church, posed in front of the sign for an area hospital emergency room to illustrate how the catalog provides vital necessities to border regions.

“I might not be able to physically work alongside my siblings in other parts of the world, but I can definitely do my part to assure they, too, have clean drinking water or food and seeds or basic hygiene supplies that I take for granted,” Dittman said. “Any time we can help people —especially children — think beyond themselves is invaluable. Children truly want to start making a difference right now.”

And in Brownsville and Mission, they are. To date, they’re about halfway toward reaching their goal of buying every item in the catalog.

At the end of each church’s hunt, everyone celebrated with ice cream at a local Sonic drive-in, staying safely in their own cars.

Although celebrations are few and far between during the current pandemic, Dittman said that she also sees new life and new beginnings emerging, even in such challenging times as these.

“I think, as Christians, we look toward and we operate in hope,” she said. “My hope is that we don’t get so full of ourselves that we forget there are other parts of the world that are still struggling. Since they were struggling before the pandemic and they’ll still be struggling after, what is it that we can continue to do so that we are acting justly, embracing kindness and walking humbly with our Lord? That’s our mission statement and I begin our worship service every Sunday reciting it.”

When asked how she’ll celebrate once the groups have purchased every item in the catalog, Dittman said they won’t.

“Since the catalog keeps adding new items every year,” she said, “we’re just going to keep going!”

Now is the time to unite with thousands of others using the Presbyterian Giving Catalog to support the ministries closest to their hearts: feeding the hungry, comforting the brokenhearted and sharing our faith with young and old. Give today by clicking here.

This was originally published for Presbyterian News Service on September 29, 2020.

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