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Taking the ‘plunge’ to improve basic sanitation and hygiene worldwide

Indiana youth group uses lighthearted approach to address serious health issue through the Presbyterian Giving Catalog

by Emily Enders Odom, Mission Communications | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Youth at First Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Indiana, have some good, clean fun playing plungerball. (Contributed photo)

ST. LOUIS — Although ballplayers have been swinging since ancient times — whether with bats, rackets, hands or clubs — recorded history is strangely silent about plungers.

Yes, plungers.

“Plungerball started about 20 years ago when I first started leading the youth group,” said Sunny Currier, youth leader at First Presbyterian Church of Columbus, Indiana, who was attending the 2024 APCE Annual Event, Jan. 24-27, in St. Louis with a group from the congregation. “It’s just like softball, but instead of a bat you use a plunger. It just became a thing in our youth group.”

But the mission-minded youth of the church are not all fun and games.

“They are interested in social justice,” said Stephanie Cunningham, who leads the youth group with Currier at the 400-member church in the Presbytery of Ohio Valley. “Whenever we have conversations about topical issues, I find them to be really engaged.”

And that’s where the Presbyterian Giving Catalog came in.

“We already knew about the Giving Catalog from the congregation,” said Jen Riddle, the church’s director of Children, Youth and Young Adult Ministries. “Our social justice committee was working with it.”

The Presbyterian Giving Catalog is filled with a wide variety of gifts that provide real and positive impact around the world.

The 2023–2024 edition offers a total of 43 items — large, small and in between ­— to fit every congregation’s missional interests and every individual’s budget. For ease of use, it is available both in print and online, in EnglishSpanish and Korean.

When committee members Mary Ann McCray and Vern Jorck approached the two youth leaders and Riddle with a proposal, they were ready and eager to answer not only God’s — but also nature’s — call.

“Mary Ann and Vern thought it would be a great idea for the children of the church to raise money for families of chickens,” recalled Currier. “When they asked us if we could get that going, I thought that our youth group could also do something. So, when I picked up the Giving Catalog and saw the latrine item, considering that our youth group’s favorite activity is plungerball, the decision was obvious.”

Youth ministry leaders at First Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Indiana, pose with Gracie the fish during last week’s APCE Annual Event. (Photo by Margaret Boone)

Currier said that reading the accompanying description in the Giving Catalog helped her to explain to the youth why latrines are important. According to a United Nations website, there are 3.5 billion people living without safe toilets.

The Giving Catalog explains that for women in particular, latrines promote dignity and safety, minimizing the risk of assault when they venture out alone in search of privacy.

“We explained to the youth that we have places to go to the bathroom, but not everybody does,” added Cunningham, who works for a domestic violence organization. “Even though it’s a heavy topic, you can pair it with something fun.”

And the teenagers — and youth leaders alike — had plenty of that.

The youth group kicked off their fundraising campaign in the late fall of 2023 with a table set up during coffee hour for the first two weeks of Advent and also as part of the church’s alternative giving fair.

Their creative displays gave a knowing nod and a wink to the latrine project by giving away Hershey’s Kisses, chocolate emoji-themed cupcakes and lemonade.

Currier had also found a broken chair in the recycling bin, which she outfitted with a toilet seat and mixing bowl to further raise awareness.

Youth at First Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Indiana, encouraged gifts to the Presbyterian Giving Catalog with this creative display. (Photo by Sunny Currier)

For the children’s chicken project, Riddle said she found instructions to make paper plate chickens on the Giving Catalog’s website, which they displayed.

“We also made our ‘time with children’ sermons during the first two weeks of Advent related to the Giving Catalog project, first the chickens and then the latrines,” she said. “It’s great to have something visual for the kids.”

The Giving Catalog offers a wealth of hands-on activities, including the “I Spy Activity,” complete with downloadable coloring sheets of a chicken, cow, piglet and veggies designed to help children better understand how their gifts make a difference for families and entire communities.

At the APCE Annual Event, adults like Cunningham also enjoyed the opportunity to color — for a cause. And for a prize.

APCE attendees who completed and returned their coloring sheets on day 1 of the annual event were awarded a Piggy Tote; on day 2, a Chicken Tote; and on day 3, Veggies.

Completing coloring sheets featuring items from the Presbyterian Giving Catalog gave APCE Annual Event-goers a welcome respite. (Photo by Margaret Boone)

“I appreciated the coloring because self-care is important,” said Cunningham. “I also wanted to win a chicken tote bag badly! It means something to me because our kids worked on that project. Anything with children and youth is close to my heart.”

Although the chicken and latrine projects were the church’s first experience with — and gifts to — the Catalog, the results from the congregation were remarkable.

“Because the church was so incredibly generous, we ended up with enough money for 15 1/4 families of chickens at $25 each, and 3 1/2 latrines at $350 each,” said Currier.

Riddle explained that when the church’s men’s group heard about funding the latrines, they were so moved by a need that they weren’t previously aware of that they made a gift of a whole latrine.

“It’s sad that people don’t have access to latrines for safety and privacy,” said 12-year-old Maddie. “I’m glad we can help them.”

To which Maddie’s best friend, 13-year-old Violet, added, “We take a lot of things for granted.”

Like First Presbyterian Church of Columbus, Indiana, please consider using the Presbyterian Giving Catalog to  spread hope and help create lasting, positive change around the world.

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