FROSTPROOF – Floridians know what it’s like to be hot and sticky in the summer heat, and children riding school buses are no exception. To beat that heat, Sun Ray UMC is reaching out to provide cool refreshment for about 100 schoolchildren who get on and off buses at the church each weekday.
“While standing in the church parking lot, I literally saw 98 children on our property five days a week and twice a day and I thought, ‘We have to do something about that,’” said Rev. Curtiss Cain, pastor of the church just outside Frostproof.
“I started talking to different [church] groups and committees about what the kids need and are doing. During the discussions, it was noted school buses are hot and sticky. The idea spurred on what God has laid on me.”
The pastor continued, “One way to succeed in Christ – let’s give out 100 bottles of water to the kids as they are getting off the bus.
“Two years ago a school bus stop was placed down the street at the clubhouse,” Cain said. “Now we have three bus stops in the community. The church parking lot also became one of the bus stops a couple years ago. We have three to four buses that stop here for children [in] kindergarten through 12th grade.”
The project’s response among students was immediate and favorable. In fact, some of the students accepted water bottles and stayed behind to help distribute water to others getting off the bus. Even deputies participating in the Polk County Sheriff’s Office community patrol stopped by for water and took the beverage to other bus stops.
“About a third of the water went out to the community, not just staying in the church parking lot,” Cain said.
The pastor describes the community of Sun Ray as a suburb of Frostproof, in a 21-block community that is disconnected from everything else for about five miles. Worshipers at the church are almost exclusively Caucasian retirees, but the area is shifting to a Hispanic culture and young people.
Because the community has about 200 children living within a 1.5-mile radius of the church, the congregation has been thinking about ways to serve those children.
“We have a sweet retiree, Janice Beyers, who visited the restaurant across the street on a regular basis and eventually asked the waitresses if she could bring their children to the church’s children’s ministry,” Cain said. “Four to five children attend now in the summer, increasing to 12 during the season. The youngest is 3 and the oldest is in middle school.”
The goal with the bottled water ministry is to start building relationships with the community, let the residents know the church congregation is there and use the program as a stepping stone to build the children’s ministry.
“The congregation will continue to raise funds and tangible items for the project,” Cain said. “The congregation is testing the waters on how they feel about it now. The members are visiting with the students as they hand out the water to build up relationships with the community. Plans are to work with the children throughout the year and perhaps have a pizza party at the end of the school year.”
A fundraiser began at the beginning of August with a goal of $650 to purchase 10,000 bottles of water. Cain said that gives the congregation a tangible and exciting target.
Church members so far have donated $150, numerous bottles of water and additional tangible items, including two trash cans to be used as recycling bins.
– Brenda Eggert Brader is a freelance writer based in Winter Haven.