BY SUSAN THACKER
Local churches are collecting money for the poor, during the weeks leading up to Easter.
The Widow’s Mite fundraiser will start on Ash Wednesday, which is March 9 this year, and continue through the season of Lent, to Easter on April 24. This is one of two fundraisers conducted each year by the Barton County Association of Churches, on behalf of the Emergency Aid Association. (The other fundraiser is a chicken-noodle dinner in the fall.)
The Barton County Emergency Aid Association, located at 3007 10th St. in Great Bend, provides money for needs such as rent, utilities, gasoline and temporary lodging. The assistance is intended for people in unexpected, emergency situations, said Craig Heneke, BCEAA president.
"Basically, if income was less than expenses and they have a disconnect notice or rent eviction notice, it is regarded as an emergency," according to information from the association. "It also assists with emergency aid to transients moving through the community." Usually the assistance is limited to between $50 and $125 per household, per year.
Emergency Aid gets its funding from area churches and their two annual fundraisers, from Golden Belt Community Foundation and from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. Additional donations come from service clubs and individuals.
In 2008, Emergency Aid helped 354 families, providing nearly $32,000 in assistance. In 2009 and 2010 the number of families helped grew to 372, but the money distributed has decreased — to $28,326 in 2009 and to just $15,516 last year.
The Rev. Adam Wutka, with the Barton County Association of Churches, said less money was collected during last year’s Lenten fundraiser, so this year he is taking extra efforts to publicize the drive. He sent letters to 50 congregations in Barton County, not counting his own congregations at St. Mark Lutheran in Great Bend and St. Paul in Galatia. He’s encouraging churches and individual members to take up special collections during Lent.
Even small donations can add up, Wutka noted, which is why some churches have what they call "noisy offerings," in which members dump change from their pockets into a metal can. People may want to wash out a soup can at home and collect spare change in it; the Association of Churches has larger cans for congregations that need them.
The idea of doing a lot by donating what you can — even if it’s only a small amount — is exemplified by a story in the Bible, found in verses 41-44 of the 12th chapter of Mark, Wutka said. It is the story of Jesus watching several rich people who dropped large donations into the offering box at the temple. He comments after a poor widow drops two small coins in the box: "Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living."
In the Old English used to write the King James Version of the Bible, the widow’s coins are referred to as "mites." At the time the translation was written, two mites equaled one British farthing, and a farthing was worth one-fourth of a penny.
Wutka said there are several parallels that make the story of the widow’s mite a fitting name for the fundraiser. The purpose of the temple treasury was similar to that of Emergency Aid, and the widow’s actions mirrored the generosity needed from everyone, as they are able to give. "The idea is that everything that is ours we owe to God — not just out of our excess."
Individuals who do not have a church home or who would like to mail donations may mail them to Nancy Sundahl, treasurer of the association of churches, at 3731 24th St., Great Bend, KS 67530. Checks should be made payable to the Barton County Association of Churches, which is a nonprofit organization, and designated for Emergency Aid.
Barton County Emergency Aid’s hours of operation are 8:30-11:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Off-hours needs are handled through the Barton County Sheriff’s Office. The telephone number is (620) 793-3345.