'Buy a pizza, save a life': Teenager uses cooking skills to fight malaria

'Buy a pizza, save a life': Teenager uses cooking skills to fight malaria

Avery Smith, age 14, creates four kinds of take-and-bake pizzas to raise money for "Imagine No Malaria."


CHILHOWIE, Va. -- Avery Smith, age 14, appreciates good food. He also appreciates how his church is saving lives by fighting malaria.

So when Smith and his pastor put their heads together to create an “Imagine No Malaria” fundraiser, it didn’t take long for them to come up with  …  pizza!

“It’s kind of the mad scientist in me. I like to experiment,” Smith said.

A straight-A student, trombone player, and fan of TV’s Food Network, Smith also became an advocate when his pastor, the Rev. Sarah Slack, told him about Imagine No Malaria.

“Avery is my one kid who comes to youth, so I try to work with his interests,” said Slack, pastor at Chilhowie United Methodist Church.

Slack told Smith about the international United Methodist Church’s mission to eradicate malaria by the end of 2015. She explained that Chilhowie UMC is one of 890-plus churches in the Holston Conference, which is raising $1 million this year to save children in Africa from dying of the mosquito-borne disease.

“Malaria claims a life every minute, which is horrible,” the teenager said. “I wasn’t aware of how bad malaria is, didn’t know it was that great of a problem.”

Slack’s congregation already had a goal of giving $60 per family to the campaign, but her dedicated youth member wanted to do something more.

“We decided to make and sell take-and-bake pizzas, because after all, everybody likes pizza," he said.


The food aficionado researched until he found the perfect homemade crust recipe. Then he and his pastor created four different kinds of pizza toppings. One was a dessert pizza labeled the “Chilhowie Special” because it included a special ingredient: apple butter made by the church’s United Methodist Men.

Smith then wrote a speech to give to his congregation “with a timer that went off every 60 seconds,” Slack said. The timer indicated that every 60 seconds, another person dies from malaria.

Both the teenager’s pastor and mother admitted they cried during the Sunday morning presentation.

“My daddy would have been so proud,” said Melanie Smith, whose father, the Rev. Arthur Phillips Jr., was a pastor in the North Carolina Conference. (Her grandfather, the Rev. Arthur Phillips Sr., was a pastor in the Holston Conference.)

On the designated pizza-making Saturday, Smith was joined by pastor, mother, and fellow church member Lauren Rhea in the church kitchen. They rolled dough all day, and Chef Smith added his own blend of spices and cheeses to the finished products.

“There was flour everywhere,” says Pastor Slack. "We were sliding around in it."

The project turned out well, not only because it was tasty -- “Best homemade pizza I’ve ever had, and I’ve tried to make homemade pizza,” said Slack –- but also because it was a bargain.

“The Imagine No Malaria campaign says it takes $10 to save a life,” Smith said. “We organized our whole pizza fundraiser so that each pizza costs $10. Therefore, you buy a pizza, you save a life. It’s a real deal.”

When the last pizza was sold, Smith had helped save 48 lives, raising $480 for Imagine No Malaria. So far, Chilhowie United Methodist Church has raised an additional $3,140 – saving 314 more lives.



Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.

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