Shortly after the July 7 sniper attack in downtown Dallas, a group of young girls decided they wanted to help. It started as a simple neighborhood lemonade stand that received matching funds from a new summer initiative called “Spark Tank” at St. Andrew UMC in Plano, and from there it kept gaining momentum. The girls presented a check for $10,000 at the Dallas Police Association to benefit fallen officers’ families. The story went viral and was seen on national news including ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the Huffington Post, and other publications across the nation and Canada.
“The more people that got involved and the more word spread on social media, the more money started coming in for the lemonade stand,” said Kimberly Nelon. It was just amazing to see the support of everyone and hear everyone’s comments when donating to the girls. This has been an amazing experience for all of us!”
“Spark Tank, launched at St. Andrew UMC on May 23, could not have come at a better time,” said Rev. Arthur Jones, Associate Pastor, St. Andrew UMC. “This summer our community needed and wanted to come together more than ever to show love to one another. With 79 Spark Tank projects initiated this summer, the program was a huge success.”
Spark Tank first began when a St. Andrew UMC church family, who wishes to remain anonymous, became inspired from a sermon they heard.
“The ‘Build Your Kingdom’ sermon series focused on how it is our job to build the kingdom of Christ here on earth,” added Rev. Jones. “It is the Lord’s Prayer in action…’thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.’ It challenges you to view the world in the way that Jesus did, asking how can I help my neighbors.”
Providing $166,000 for three summers ($500,000 total) as matching funds, the donor family is encouraging church members to initiate hands-on projects to actively serve others outside the walls of St. Andrew. Funding may be requested up to $1,000 per person and group projects may be approved for higher matching dollars. Youth projects require no personal investment.
Another Spark Tank project was started by church member Miranda Jack, 19, who had seen a news story about a fire in West Oak Cliff at Iglesia De Cristo Camino De Santidad. She wanted to do something to help the church and enlisted the help of her Sunday School class. The fire completely destroyed the sanctuary of the church, which did not have insurance.
“Through Spark Tank, we were approved with a $5,000 challenge grant, providing a total of $10,000 and a way for our Sunday school group to provide new carpet, paint, and other needs to restore some sense of normalcy to this congregation.
“Our church members are so grateful,” said Edith Lima, the pastor’s wife. “It motivates them that outsiders are coming to help us, and they want to help, too.”
This summer, St. Andrew’s youth traveled to Providence, Louisiana, for their annual mission trip. While there they determined the most critical needs for a Spark Tank project. They were able to bless additional families and individuals beyond their original goals, including purchasing a refrigerator for a family with an infant.
St. Andrew’s Salt and Light Youth Choir, a 60-member ensemble of 6th-12th graders, traveled to New York City on a choir trip, where they performed a concert at the Brooklyn United Methodist Church home.
“We learned that the home was in need of iPod shuffles,” said Phillip Haworth, Associate Director of Traditional Worship, St. Andrew. “And yes, we bought them in New York and took them on the subway to present to them at our concert. Rev. Vera Isaacs, the home’s chaplain, was thrilled! The iPods are used for therapy for their residents, especially those with dementia. When nothing else calms, the music puts them at ease. It was a memorable day for everyone.” Additionally, a Spark Tank grant provided funds for the chaplain ministry at the home.
Church member Heather Davis of North Dallas recently organized two projects, enlisting the help of numerous youth volunteers. They provided 50 stuffed animals to children at Hope’s Door in Plano and raised $9,481.83 to provide school supplies and 500 backpacks to foster children through Friends of Wednesday’s Child.
“This project reminds me of the Methodist hymn ‘Pass It On,’” said Davis. “The song begins, ‘It only takes a spark to get a fire going.’ That’s exactly what’s happening! It has been amazing to get all of these kids involved so quickly – all wanting to give back and create new projects. They want to pass it on.”
Most recently, St. Andrew pastors and staff served lunch to the Dallas police officers of the Southwest Patrol Division – the division where three of the fallen officers worked. Teaming up with Lockhart Smokehouse and Stir, who provided the food, about 150 officers enjoyed lunch and special gift cards from Spark Tank funds.
From Dallas to Zimbabwe, Spark Tank projects have benefited people across the world. The St. Andrew United Methodist Men are taking kids from Richardson High School to visit colleges as well as to area businesses to help them with the practical and social skills needed to continue on with a career. Funds from Spark Tank are helping with everything from study materials to gas for transportation and dinners. Another project involved several St. Andrew families picking out, purchasing and delivering bikes, helmets, and locks to the Chin Community Ministry in Lewisville. These new immigrants do not drive. Teens use the bikes to get to school and adults to get to work. The Spirit Sunday School class at St. Andrew helped to raise $5,000, and Spark Tank matched for another $5,000 to help with the building of the “All Abilities Playground” in McKinney, originated by the Rotary Club of McKinney. The class also helped with some of the construction. Additional projects included furnishing an apartment for a refugee family, fixing air conditioning for several struggling families, helping a teachers’ aide with her mortgage after multiple illnesses, and buying random groceries for people in the Aldi in Carrollton. Walter Sithole, a church member from Frisco, inspired by his two young daughters, collected clothes, food and supplies to take to a number of churches and orphanages in Zimbabwe.
“It has been wonderful to see our congregation initiate so many different ways to become the hands and feet of Jesus,” said Rev. Robert Hasley, senior pastor, St. Andrew UMC. “We are beyond grateful to a very special church family who has started it all and can’t wait to continue the program next summer.”