Pitching in to help Camp in the Community recover from theft

Austyn, Abigal, and Amanda Burkhalter deliver children's books to the Alcoa Conference Center on Dec. 12.

ALCOA, Tenn. (Dec. 13, 2019) -- Church and community members are pulling together to help a Holston Conference camp recover from the theft of three trailers containing almost all of its supplies.

About $15,000 has been received in financial donations from caring individuals to help Camp in the Community get ready for the 2020 summer season, says Director Whitney Winston.

People from churches and communities have also fulfilled about 20 percent of an Amazon wish list set up to help the mobile camp restore its crafts, games and other equipment.

Camp in the Community has received $35,000 in an insurance claim, Winston said.

She said it was exciting when boxes full of new equipment from donors began arriving at her office in the Alcoa Conference Center, soon after local media shared the story of the devastating loss.

“It gave me a lot of hope that we would be able to recover and work on the other things we need to be working on,” Winston said.

Last summer, the traveling camp served 1,204 children at 25 churches. Camp in the Community is a day camp for the poorest neighborhoods in Holston Conference, where children experience a free week of outdoorsy, faith-building activities and meals, hosted by a local congregation.

Valued at $60,000, the three trailers full of supplies were parked behind The Remedy at Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville. The theft may have occurred as early as mid-September but was not discovered until October.

A few items were recently recovered by police and will be delivered to Winston next week, she said. “I don’t have much information yet because it’s an active investigation,” she said.

For now, the race is on for Winston to raise enough money for the regular camp season, in addition to replacing the stolen games, crafts, instructions, totes, books, health equipment, and records. The first day of summer camp 2020 is June 7. Staff training begins May 18.

Winston said she still needs about $8,000 in funds and hopes more of the Amazon wish list will be fulfilled during the Christmas season.

Kern Memorial United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, has
designated half of its Advent offering to help Camp in the Community. The Wesley Leadership Institute will also ask Holston clergy to give an offering for Camp in the Community during Ministers Convocation, to be held Feb. 17-19 in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Winston opens a box containing a new game.

However, the children’s books that were lost during the theft have been completely replaced -- and then some, Winston said.

Three sisters organized a book drive through Blount County schools that provided 2,840 books in the weeks before Thanksgiving. Abigal Burkhalter, age 13, Amanda Burkhalter, age 11, and Austyn Burkhalter, age 9, delivered more books to the Alcoa Conference Center on Dec. 12.

In addition, Three Rivers Traveling Library donated 1,200 books and the Rev. Monty Walton donated 300.

“We lost 1,200 books in the trailers, so we’re stocked now,” Winston said, smiling. Her hope is to not only give each Camp in the Community child a book to take home. She also hopes hosting churches will consider offering free libraries in their buildings or at a local laundromat during their Camp in the Community week.

Thirty-one local churches have submitted applications for the 2020 summer season, Winston said. Next week, the 24 hosting churches will be announced. Hosting churches are selected based on demographics (low-income neighborhoods) and commitment to invite people into equal relationships with community members.

Visit CampintheCommunity.org to learn how you can help.