ATHENS, Tenn. (April 5, 2018) -- Easter egg hunts are fine for some churches, but Trinity United Methodist Church had a different idea for reaching out to the community at Easter.
On Saturday, March 31, Trinity invited the community to the local airport to see a helicopter drop 150 gallons of candy on the runway.
It was the third year Trinity UMC has organized the aerodynamic event for kids, said Kristy Gentry-Cox. This year, a total of 550 people attended.
“I don’t know children’s events, but I do know airports,” said Gentry-Cox, a pilot and manager of McMinn County Airport. After being recruited for the Trinity children’s ministry team, she researched ideas for outreach. Gentry-Cox contacted a Milwaukee mega church to learn more about their annual “candy drop” for Easter.
“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” Jim Gentry recalls saying, when he first heard about the helicopter candy drop proposed by his daughter.
The children’s ministry team loved the idea. They placed 30 five-gallon buckets around the church to begin the massive candy drive.
“It was truly fabulous to watch the people work together to accomplish a goal that could be difficult for a small congregation,” said the Rev. Loren Boyce, who experienced his first Easter as Trinity pastor this year. Trinity has 90 in average worship attendance.
Online registration was set up, and the “Community Easter Candy Drop” was publicized with three large banners around town, a radio-station newsletter, Facebook, and flyers that church members displayed at their businesses.
“We are limited to 325 registered children,” Gentry-Cox said. Registration was full a week prior to the March 31 event.
On the day of the candy drop, 60 church members showed up at the airport to scan tickets, park cars, drive shuttles, hand out goody bags, entertain and keep the children safe.
“The one thing we all agreed on was that the Easter story would be told,” Gentry-Cox said. Pastor Boyce and his wife, the Rev. Jessica Boyce, told the story of Jesus’ resurrection to the children gathered inside the hangar.
“This is precious, to see hundreds of little faces mesmerized as they hear the story,” Gentry-Cox said.
Molly Rogers from Camp Lookout, located in Rising Fawn, Georgia, led songs and dance activities for the group. Then the children were led outside and lined up (first the younger kids, then the older ones) for the candy drop. The kids chanted, “Start that helicopter!” followed by, “Candy, candy, candy!”
After the helicopter dumped its treasures, the Easter bunny gave the “all clear!” for the children to rush over and pick up the candy scattered on the runway.
“We worked for two months collecting this candy, and it’s all over in an hour,” Boyce said, laughing.
The goody bags included church information, and personal invitations were extended for participants to join in Sunday worship and other activities, Boyce said. “We’re hopeful to see if we get a response. But if even if there’s not, we wanted to show the community, ‘This is what Christian people do.’”
“That’s what it’s all about,” said Jim Gentry. “We look at this as a children’s ministry for the community.”
The Trinity congregation is also proud of another airport-related mission. For the last year, McMinn County Airport has hosted a Saturday-morning “Fly-in Breakfast” for pilots.
“There are fly-in breakfasts on Saturdays all over the region, and pilots are always looking for an excuse to go fly,” Gentry-Cox explained.
Every five weeks since April 2016, Trinity United Methodist Women have hosted pilots for a home-cooked spread that costs $6. The most recent Fly-in Breakfast happened to coincide with the Candy Drop on March 31.
So a few hours before hundreds of kids arrived at the airport for candy, 35 airplanes flew in and 100 people sat down to a big pre-Easter breakfast.
“These ladies are troopers,” Gentry-Cox said. “After breakfast, they went right to work for the Candy Drop.”
The United Methodist Women raised $700, which will be used to support local missions including The Women at the Well, Friendly Fellows Club, and McMinn County American Cancer Society.
Contact Annette Spence at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos below: (1) Kristy Gentry-Cox gives instructions. (2) Pastors tell the Easter story. (3) Children wave at the planes. (4-5) Helicopter drops the candy. (6) Easter bunny gives the "all clear." (7-8) Kids pick up candy. (9) Trinity UMC family.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.