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Churches challenging for charity

According to Trinity Lutheran’s Marti Peterson, children put the first bricks on the house as part of the kick-off on the first Sunday of the Challenge as the council members contributed enough for them to each be able to put on a brick. During Sunday School, they made little house banks that are on the tables to collect loose change. They all received hard hats a couple of Sundays later for their construction work.They are also making flowers for the house. (Submitted photo)

The Little Red Shovel Challenge may not be as old a rivalry as the decades old Little Brown Jug exchange between the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota football teams, but it’s equally as important in its own right.

Pastor Mike Briggs of Trinity Lutheran Church in Hammond said the Little Red Shovel Challenge began four years ago when he received a gift from Pastor Emil Evenson, who founded Trinity and Cross Lutheran Church in Roberts in 1972.

Evenson had found a small red shovel that was used in the groundbreaking of Trinity in 1973, and may have been used in Cross’ groundbreaking. The words “Cross Lutheran” are embossed on a white ribbon attached to the shovel.

“We assume it was used in the groundbreaking at Cross Lutheran too, because of the ribbon on it,” Briggs said. “We thought it would be fun to challenge them to win it from us. We thought about just giving it to them, but this is more fun.”

So began the Little Red Shovel Challenge. In 2011, the two churches raised money for the Roberts Food Pantry. Trinity raised about $1,000 and Cross roughly $1,500, Briggs said.

The next year, Cross Lutheran picked the challenge of collecting bags of donated items for Turningpoint Shelter in River Falls. That year, Trinity won by one or two bags, Briggs said.

“It was very, very close,” Briggs said. “We collected somewhere between 150 and 200 bags.”

Last year Trinity chose raising money for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA -- the synod both Trinity and Cross are a part of) malaria campaign. While Trinity won that challenge, together the churches raised a little more than $5,000 to battle malaria in Africa.

This year’s contest is even bigger. Retired guest pastor Terry Kinney came to Trinity last June and threw out the idea of raising money for Food For The Poor’s (FFTP) housing program.

FFTP is an interdenominational Christian ministry that aids the poor in 17 countries across the Caribbean and Latin America. They provide food, homes, water wells, medicine and support for orphanages and schools.

Briggs said the cost of building a solid single-unit home with sanitation costs $3,200. Kinney told Trinity’s congregation he would match whatever they raise.

“We may end up building four or five houses between the two congregations and Pastor Kinney,” Briggs said. “It’s worth hoping for.”

Pastor Dean Simpson of Cross Lutheran said the homes are nothing fancy, but will have a concrete floor, are well-built and provide adequate shelter against tropical storms.

“I have seen the conditions myself and it’s shameful people have to live that way,” Simpson said.

Briggs thought the homes would be built in either Honduras, Guatemala or Jamaica, but was unsure. Simpson said FFTP might use the money for wherever the need is greatest.

Both pastors said fundraising efforts are going well. The challenge runs from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday, so the end is near.

“It’s fun to see the way people have picked it up and run with it,” Briggs said. “They enjoy it. I’m proud of both churches. It’s good for us and it broadens our views on what God’s up to out there. There are needs under our noses that we wouldn’t otherwise know about.”

Simpson said even though FFTP is not a Lutheran ministry, it’s an important one.

“Giving to a non-Lutheran ministry isn’t subtracting from other efforts,” Simpson said. “If anything, I think it enhances giving to all charitable organizations. Our overall giving improves over time.”

Fundraising efforts have run the gamut of selling “bricks” for $10 apiece and children’s coin banks at Trinity and an Easter breakfast by the youth and gift grants at Cross.

As for who is going to win that Little Red Shovel, that remains to be seen.

“It would be kind of fun to send spies (to Cross),” Briggs said with a laugh.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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