Grinch strikes; children rally

BIG THINGS ARE POSSIBLE — Denmark Congregational Church Pastor John Patrick (above left) explains to the congregation how the children’s collection began with one piggy bank and grew to nearly $800. Big things are possible from small contributions with persistence and a goal. (Photos by Allen Crabtree)

By Allen Crabtree

Special to The News

DENMARK — The children of the Denmark Congregational Church learned that the Grinch is real this Christmas.

SACRIFICING — Luke Sekera has been saving his change for a computer, but when he heard that the children’s collection at the Denmark Congregational Church had been stolen, he donated all his savings to help replace the money stolen. (Photo by Allen Crabtree)

For six months, children have been asking the congregation at Sunday services for their loose pocket change for a special Heifer International outreach project. The nickels, dimes and pennies collected were all carefully deposited in a large five-gallon water-cooler bottle prominently displayed at the front of the church.

Every week, the level of change inside it rose higher and higher as more was collected to the mission goal. That is, until last Thursday night when someone smashed open the front door of the church and like the Grinch stealing the Christmas presents from Whoville, made off with the bottle, change and all.

“The bottle was more than half-full and I estimate that there was probably $750 to $800 in it,” said Denmark Pastor John Patrick. “And when it was completely filled would have allowed us to buy a variety of farm animals through the Heifer International project to send to needy families around the world.”

Pastor Patrick added, “This has also been a valuable lesson for the children that great things can be accomplished through perseverance and many small steps — a pocket of pennies and nickels may not be much by themselves, but with everyone working together they soon add up to an impressive amount.”

There is a little consolation that whoever stole the money did not vandalize the church or steal anything else, but that doesn’t lessen the disappointment at the theft. The collection has been a project of not only the children, but of the whole congregation of the Denmark Church, and coming as it did just before Christmas, the loss has hit everyone in this small community very hard. The very sad news about the break-in spread like wildfire over the weekend.

Nickie Sekera’s son, Luke, is one of the children who regularly passed the collection plate to collect pocket change every Sunday, and watched with wide eyes as the level of coins in the water bottle grew higher and higher.

“When we learned the news today, Luke was devastated. He said that he wanted to donate all the change he has been saving to buy a computer to replace some of the money stolen,” Sekera said. “Luke said that he had filled up a jar at home about half full with his savings. His jar was as full as the big bottle in the church and he knows how hard it is to accumulate money for something you want real badly. He knows that if everybody helped a little we could replace everything that was taken.”

There is an old Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; you have fed him for a lifetime.” This proverb is basic to the mission of Heifer International to give animals to families and communities to help them become self-sustaining. The organization has been giving cattle, sheep, rabbits, pigs, llamas, honeybees, water buffalo, ducks, chicken, goats and geese as well as tree seedlings and plants since 1944 when the first shipment of 17 heifers went from York, Pa. to Puerto Rico. As of last year, animals and plants have been distributed to more than 125 countries around the world, helping more than 71 million people become self-sufficient.

Animals provide meat, milk, muscle, manure, money, materials and motivation to the families and communities receiving them. Once its immediate needs have been met, a family is free to sell any excess at market. Participating families are required to “Pass on the Gift,” that is, they must give at least one of the female offspring to a neighbor who has undergone Heifer’s training. In time, that neighbor will pass along one of the offspring of its animal, and so on. In time, it is hoped that these gifts will help ease world hunger.

“Once the children, with help from the congregation, had filled the water bottle full of change our plan was to have the children in the Sunday School decide what animals they would like to buy to give to others,” Pastor Patrick said.

The Heifer International catalog lists a heifer at $500, and a sheep $120, while three rabbits are $50 and a flock of ducks is $20.

“We had hoped to be able to collect enough to buy an Ark which has a large selection of different kinds of animals,” said Pastor Patrick, “but that would cost $5,000 and we didn’t think we had enough room in the bottle for that. We could make a good start on it, though!”

The Grinch stole all the presents and decorations from the people of Whoville, but was not able to extinguish their Christmas spirit. The theft of the children’s collection has been a sad day for Denmark, but it has not dampened by even a little the joy of the congregation as they celebrate the magical Advent season. It will take time, but the children will rebuild the collection and then reach out to others less fortunate in the world with a message of hope and peace.

Most important, however, the Grinch has reminded us all of Advent’s lessons of love and wishes for peace. Denmark Congregational Church member Bill Sanborn probably said it best, “We would have helped whomever did this. All they needed to do was ask.”

This is the season when we reach out to others with love and compassion and forgive the Grinch.

Christmas has not been stolen from Whoville.

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