GAINESVILLE -- Who would have thought that a few bags of potatoes could help imprisoned mothers read bedtime stories to their children? But that is exactly what is happening at Trinity UMC.
The Mommy Reads ministry has enlisted the help of the kitchen staff at the church to sell stuffed baked potatoes at lunchtime every Tuesday afternoon through the month of October to raise money for a ministry that connects incarcerated mothers with their children.
Trinity volunteers started the Mommy Reads ministry more than five years ago. Several women travel to Lowell Correctional Institute in nearby Ocala and record inmates’ voices on MP3 players as they read children’s books.
Church volunteers then ship the book that was read and the recording to each woman’s child or children, no matter where they are. The mission requires hundreds of dollars every year to buy recorders and books, so organizers must limit the number of mothers and children they can connect according to available funding.
That’s where Franny Long, kitchen chef at Trinity, and her assistant, Susan Horne, come in with their “Spuds for Suds” campaign.
They agreed to spend every Tuesday afternoon in Trinity’s atrium café selling lunchtime spuds to raise money for Mommy Reads. Tuesday is a busy day at the church, with lots of foot traffic through the buildings for church meetings, preschool, classes and so on.
Robin Doxey, left, trims the baked potato she bought to help the Mommy Reads ministry, as Susan Horne of the Trinity UMC kitchen staff looks on.
For just $5 or a donation of soap or women’s hygiene products, customers get a piping hot potato with a delicious choice of toppings, a cup of sweet tea and a dessert.
“It is super easy,” Horne said during a recent Tuesday lunchtime event. “The whole effort takes about an hour.”
With three Tuesdays down, they have raised hundreds of dollars and three large bins of supplies for the prisoners.
“I just love baked potatoes,” said church employee Susan Kobe, who stopped in to grab a quick lunch. “It’s here and it’s easy, and I love having an opportunity to visit with Susan [Horne].”
Horne says that any church, big or small, can replicate the fundraiser for any mission. In fact, the Spuds for Suds campaign has been so successful that Trinity is going to keep it going indefinitely and raise money for another yet-to-be-determined mission.
Horne offers these tips to those who might want to do something similar:
- Pick something inexpensive and easy to make, like a baked potato. The Trinity kitchen started with just 18 in the first week and ran out. By the third week, the cooks were baking 36.
- Choose a menu that is fast and requires little labor. Horne scrubs the spuds and bakes them and puts out the toppings and plastic ware. Everything is paid for by the church and completely finished in less than an hour.
- Target prospective customers on a busy day at the church and advertise the event so you will have the most people coming through to buy your food.
- Select a cause or charity for the proceeds that means a lot to your congregation.
- As an added bonus, make sure there’s space for people to sit and eat and enjoy fellowship.
– Julie Boyd Cole is a freelance writer based in Gainesville.