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Apple-A-Day: A Church Reaches Out to its Community

by Mary Charlotte Elia

Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, VA

What is practical generosity?
Some churches have faced confusion about how to utilize their share of the Pentecost and Peacemaking Offerings. In some cases, this has led churches not to receive those offerings at all. So, in order to get ideas flowing across the denomination, we asked our social media followers for examples of how they were utilizing these funds to make a difference in their own communities. The first example of “practical generosity” comes from Mary Charlotte Elia of Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, Virginia, regarding their Apple-a-Day program.

Carol Bayma might be a spouse, a grandmother, a ruling elder and even a candidate for commissioned lay pastor, but twice a week she sheds her other titles to become simply “the fruit lady.” On these mornings Carol and other volunteers from Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church can be found carefully arranging apples, bananas, grapes, plums and pears on a table in front of the church. They’re setting up for the Apple-a-Day program, an initiative designed to foster relationships in the community while providing a healthy snack for children who pass Royster on their way to Granby Elementary School.

Each day about 60 children, some accompanied by parents or older siblings, visit the Apple-a-Day table and choose two pieces of fruit that a volunteer then packs in a small bag with a napkin. While there is a great joy in being able to share the simple goodness of various fruits, the program’s finest moments are found in conversations between the volunteers and their young customers. As Carol notes, “This little apple ministry means a whole heck of a lot more than a bite of fruit, even though it meets a real nutrition need.” Often the volunteers are surprised at the eagerness with which the children share stories about their lives. With great excitement they talk about upcoming choral programs, kickball games and family vacations, and with a quiet sadness they speak of friends moving away and siblings staying home sick.

As the program has grown, the Apple-a-Day table has become something of a neighborhood gathering space with dog walkers and other neighbors also stopping by. Even some parents who drive their children to school now park a few blocks away so that they might take advantage of the Apple-a-Day table and enjoy a pleasant stroll together. Beyond offering children a healthy snack, the Apple-a-Day program provides meaningful opportunities for volunteers and neighbors to form friendships with those who might otherwise have remained strangers.

While the success of the Apple-a-Day program is often measured through increased participation, volunteers catch a glimpse of the real impact of the ministry in the ways others have expanded its mission. “Kids are learning to give as well,” says Carol. She tells the story of a second-grader who once asked for three pieces of fruit. When Carol joked that the girl was “mighty small to eat three,” the child told Carol that she wanted to share the fruit with a friend. As Carol notes, the children are welcome “to take a second bag of fruit for a friend or a teacher's birthday, or a sister who goes to middle school and would like it when she gets home.” By ensuring that others might enjoy the fruit offered at Apple-a-Day, those children are extending the program by practicing acts of hospitality and generosity themselves.

Although the Apple-a-Day program was initially designed to provide children with access to healthy snacks, volunteers quickly realized that it could be used as a distribution point for a variety of other resources. Another ruling elder at Royster Memorial, Donna Dillon Stockburger, collected some 350 books that were shared with the children who visited the Apple-a-Day table. After first donating books from those stored in her own basement and garage, Donna looked to others to contribute to the project. As Donna recalls, “The bulk of these books came from my pleas to my staff at Alanton Elementary. The teachers scoured their shelves, both at school and home, and brought me these books.” Those books were then displayed alongside the fruit on the Apple-a-Day table, and children were encouraged to take selections for themselves, friends and siblings. Offering books through Apple-a-Day was not only an effective way to get those resources to children, but it also proved to be a valuable tool for fostering new conversations around the table. Volunteers were delighted to listen as the children chatted about what sort of books they liked to read and even returned to the Apple-a-Day table with reports of the books they had gathered there.
As the development of the Apple-a-Day program has been fueled by the ingenuity of Carol, Donna and others, the continuation of the program itself is dependent upon the generosity of the congregation and community. There is no single source of funds for Apple-a-Day. Instead, contributions have been offered through Royster Memorial’s Presbyterian Women, congregational committees and the portion of the Pentecost Offering reserved by Royster Memorial to support young people in the surrounding community. Some of the most poignant contributions, however, have been given by individuals.

Carol reports that parents of the children visiting the Apple-a-Day table often introduce themselves by dropping by with a few dollars or a package of paper bags for the project. Carol has also enjoyed sharing stories from Apple-a-Day with those she visits in the hospital or who are otherwise separated from the Royster Memorial community. They are often so delighted by tales of the children that Carol and other volunteers meet at Apple-a-Day that they send Carol back to Royster Memorial with some gift for the ministry. As Carol says, “Slipping a dollar or two (or twenty) into my hand gave them a connection that they were missing from being at church, I think.” These contributions are but one of the many ways Apple-a-Day has proven itself to be a modest initiative by a smaller congregation that has had a large impact not only on its own life but its neighborhood and community as well.

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