Members of the First United Methodist Church youth group adorn an unexpecting neighbor’s yard with 100 plastic flamingos Wednesday
night. (Thomas Wells)
As schools close for the summer, youth ministers are utilizing kids to carry out some less-than-conventional fundraising for food pantries and summer mission trips. Though it is important to keep kids engaged while they are out of school, those working with them say it is important for the activities to have a bigger purpose.
If you walk out to retrieve your morning paper and notice a flock of plastic flamingos staring at you, don’t worry, you aren’t going crazy.
You’ve been flocked.
For $20, anyone can call and order a “flocking” on the yard of a friend, family member, or neighbor through the First United Methodist Church’s youth group. Under the cover of night, the group will stealthily plant the pink birds of various sizes on the lawn, where they will stand one-legged for 24 hours when the group will return, gather them swiftly up, and transport to their next destination.
Youth group leader Corey Truett said he originally came across the idea at a church in Columbia, S.C. Despite the leg work, the fun the kids have makes it worth the effort.
“It actually works better in a town like Tupelo where everyone knows each other and neighborhoods aren’t as spread out,” he said.
The flock first visited the lawn of FUMC pastor, the Rev. Jim Curtis, last Sunday. Photos of the flocking quickly made it onto social media sites instagram and twitter, and soon the flocking schedule became quite full.
“We’ve done a dozen or so, and we’re not even halfway down the list,” Truett said.
Parents help by taking turns transporting the group each night. With 30 or so kids ranging in age from 13-18, they can easily flock a yard in under 20 minutes.
The group keeps the person who ordered the flocking anonymous, so victims can only speculate on whom to flock in retaliation. Or for $25, they can “return the favor” and exact pink-feathered revenge on the person who flocked them.
“It’s organized vandalism,” Truett said. “The kids love to sneak around, and we guarantee the one who ordered the flocking a picture of the finished job.”
Truett said the teens he ministers too enjoy the off-the-wall fundraiser. In the summer months, it is always a welcome challenge to keep kids engaged, but Truett insists there is a deeper point to the flamingos.
“I want them to be looking outward in their faith, to provide a quality place of refuge and spiritual nourishment where students can learn to exercise their faith on their own,” he said. “Otherwise, church becomes just another activity on the schedule, and things like the flamingos become just a gimmick.”
To date, the flamingos have brought in over $700, and will be flocking around Tupelo through August.
BUFFALO WING MINISTRY
The youth of Ingram Baptist Church in Baldwyn are also looking outward, partnering with sports restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings to raise money for a mission to Costa Rica in July.
“We’ve done this once before in January and had a huge turnout. The manager told us he couldn’t remember how long it had been since they had had a wait time on a Monday night,” he said. “It’s good for us and the restaurant, and it’s a chance to connect with the community.”
From 4 to 8 p.m. on June 3rd, the group of 12 or so young adults will hand out tickets at the restaurant notifying customers that 10 percent of their meal will go to fund their trip. In return, the group will help take orders and deliver food to tables.
In addition, they will offer face paintings and small games for tables.
Webb said he understood why some churches discourage fundraising outside the church or even at all.
“But Jesus was out among the masses all the time,” he said. “Who’s to say God’s plan doesn’t involve those people, too?”
The group is mostly made up of college-age students. Webb said the fundraiser is a great practice for them to carry out their faith in life, where things rarely go according to plan.
“I’m trying to make them aware that ministry doesn’t always happen on a schedule,” he said. “Lots of times opportunity to minister comes from unexpected, organic relationships with people.”
Webb recalled their January event with Buffalo Wild Wings. One of the youth gave a man a ticket and a “God Bless You” in the parking lot. The student was taken aback when the man angrily replied that he did not want to hear any preaching. The student apologized and the man went inside, but later donated $100 to the group.
“For starters, his wife probably fussed at him, but the fact is, some people have broken relationships with the church,” he said. “When we have things like this, it’s also a chance to help restore a good relationship.”