Spring Fling: Charity fundraiser unites church congregation
By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector
Thursday, April 25, 2019
For Easter Sunday, the St. James United Methodist Church calendar was filled with all the events visitors would expect to find — from sunrise service to Communion and breakfast. But there was one activity that might have been a mystery to anyone who is not a member.
Not long after the pastor said amen, families got together and lined up on the lawn for what has become a church tradition, but it was not an Easter egg hunt. Instead, volunteers at the annual “trailer unloading” were setting the stage for bargain hunters at the Spring Fling, to be held Saturday.
The 27th annual event, a fundraiser for local nonprofit organizations, doesn't always follow Holy Week. But for hundreds of volunteers at St. James, the daylong event concludes a full week of helping.
“We knew, even though it was Easter Sunday, that we would still have people to unload those trailers,” said Tammy Stephenson, who is co-chairing this year's event, along with Jeff Adams. “It's ingrained in the congregation that's when Spring Fling is. It's just part of our church calendar.”
Spring Fling has been part of the St. James church calendar since 1993, when the fundraiser was suggested as a way to help the congregation pay off some of the church's debt. Former St. James administrative assistant Lanie Shive recalls that members opted to continue the event the next year as a benefit for Habitat for Humanity. By year three, the church decided that if Spring Fling were going to continue, it would be as a fundraiser for charity.
“The minister at the time said, 'I think from now on, every year we do this, we're going to give all the money away, every penny,'” Shive recalled. “So that's what we've done since that time.”
This year's grant recipients, which will receive donations from $1,000 to $6,000 each, include the Disabled American Veterans, Easter Seals UCP Summer Moore Children's Center, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Greenville Learning Center, Grifton Mission Ministries, Operation Sunshine, Riley's Army and Third Street Academy.
FCA Director David Wall said his organization will use its $2,000 grant to buy Bibles for student-led small groups that meet at area schools. Some of those students came to St. James on Easter to help with setup. A group of football players is expected to volunteer on Saturday as well.
St. James has traditionally asked grant recipients to do more than cash their checks. Community beneficiaries are invited to share their organization's vision with church members and to help plan and staff Spring Fling.
“That's pretty unique to St. James,” Wall said of the partnership. “They do so much for us during the year that even if we weren't a grant recipient we would participate (in Spring Fling). St. James does a tremendous amount for FCA.”
Over the last quarter century, Spring Fling has generated more than $1 million that has been shared among dozens of nonprofit organizations. The fundraiser, which has grown to include a chicken dinner sale, auction and yard sale, brings in $30,000 to $40,000 a year.
“People believe it is successful because of the fact that it goes completely to ministries outside of St. James,” said Chris Garcia, the church's director of congregational engagement. “It's not to support St. James.”
Still, Garcia said, there are benefits for the church that money cannot buy. The hours it takes to prepare for the event helps to unite the church's more than 2,000 members.
With about 900 people attending one of four different worship services — two traditional and two contemporary — St. James has congregants who might never meet outside of this event.
“It's a big church,” Stephenson said. “Even though we all come every Sunday, we may be working beside somebody that we've never met before. … It truly brings us together as one church, one family.”
Volunteers from grade schoolers to members in their 90s spend hours sorting donations for the yard sale or preparing items for auction during what has come to be called Spring Fling Week. Some take vacation time to be here for as many as 12 hours a day.
Volunteers like Judy Murad spent their time in the kitchen, preparing lunch and dinner for those who are working in other areas. At meal time, 50 to 80 volunteers have lunches of sandwiches, hot dogs or taco salads or sit down to dinners complete with meat, two vegetables and dessert.
“They come in and eat and sit and laugh and talk,” Murad said.
For Spring Fling itself, volunteers arrive before 4 a.m. to place 1,900 chicken halves onto 20 cookers. Another group reports to the church to begin preparing breakfast biscuits for those in the yard sale line, including some who have been standing outside the church since midnight.
“We've had people who've come by with night-vision goggles to look in while we're working, to see what's there, to figure out what they want,” Shive said, laughing.
This year's highlights include 400 pairs of new shoes (still in boxes) from one donor who asked to remain anonymous.
“We talk about that every year,” Shive said. “How do we have so much come in year after year after year? It is amazing what we get.”
When the Rev. Mark Woods joined the staff three years ago as an associate pastor, he was astounded at the size of the event. He was even more impressed by the way that participating made him feel part of the church community.
“We ate together, we worked together, we laughed together, there was stress together,” he said. “That can solidify a community when you do those things together.
“In a church this size, usually there are lots of different events going on,” Woods said. “Here on this event, everybody focuses their attention on one. It's a good time of fellowship … just to be together.”
St. James United Methodist Church, 2000 E. Sixth St., will host its annual Spring Fling from 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. A yard sale, which will include furniture, plants and garden items and a children's section, begins at 6:30 a.m. A bake sale, art sale and book sale will begin at 7:30 a.m. in the fellowship hall. A chicken dinner sale will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets are $8 per plate. Doors reopen at 4 p.m. for an auction, which will begin at 5 p.m. Visit stjconnect.org/spring-fling.