BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. -- It's common for churches to offer Vacation Bible School during the summertime. How about spring break?
Recognizing a niche of need in their community, four Kingsport District churches teamed to provide a free week of activities, meals, and transportation -- all during spring break at nearby Central Heights Elementary School.
"As a teacher, I know how many kids are on free or reduced lunch," says the Rev. Grover Starnes, pastor at Holly Springs/Arcadia United Methodist Church and 15-year veteran teacher (and former football coach) at Sullivan East High School. (See photo.)
"In the summertime, parents plan for their children. During spring break, they sort of slide by. God just laid it on my heart to do something about it," he said.
Starnes proposed an all-day Vacation Bible School (VBS) for children who might go hungry or without care during spring break. Holly Springs became the hosting congregation and took an offering to buy supplies. (See photo.)
Other churches in the Bloomingdale Parish joined the effort. Arcadia UMC, Salem UMC, and Vermont UMC contributed donations, church vans, or volunteers. United Methodist Women from Vermont promised to provide a pizza lunch. Kingsley UMC offered to fill in any gaps. Members of the community donated money, too.
Donna Swain, member at Vermont UMC, said she learned about the springtime VBS when the parish churches got together for their regular "Fifth Sunday Sing."
"I felt like I really needed to help this little church that was willing to step up and do something like this," said Swain, referring to Holly Springs.
Holly Springs has 15 in average worship attendance. Arcadia has 45. Vermont has 170.
Central Heights Elementary has a high percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, according to Starnes. He invited them to VBS through parent letters and a PTA appearance. (See photo.)
Church volunteers planned for 40 children; about 15 attended.
Despite the low turnout, a spring-break VBS is an idea other churches should consider, said Liz Carrico, director of the March 28-April 1 event and member at Holly Springs UMC. (See photo.)
"There is definitely a need for it, during this economy," she said. "We're serving two meals and two snacks each day, and some of the kids get just real excited about eating. We're trying to keep it healthful, too."
The churches also provided arts and crafts, Bible lessons, movie time, and outdoor play time. Parents were invited to bring their children to the school at the usual starting time: 8:30 a.m. The students were then transported in church vans about two miles to the church. At 3:30, they were transported back to the school where their parents could pick them up.
A special cookout with inflatable games was planned on the final day. Parents were invited.
At week's end, four VBS children from one family were planning to return for other church activities.
Starnes said he hoped those four children, with his own two grandchildren, would be the start of a new children's ministry at Holly Springs.
"The youngest person in this congregation is 55," said Starnes, who grew up at Holly Springs. "This is a brilliant experiment, and we think God is going to bless it."