One City's 'Generosity' Movement Defies Church-State Divide
TITUSVILLE, Fla. -- In an era when so many people worry about the separation of church and state, this small city across from Cape Canaveral found a way to bring the two together with a positive cause everyone could rally around. It was called 40 Days of Generosity.
City agencies and people joined with dozens of local churches and congregations in a deliberate and massive effort to do random acts of kindness and multiple missions of generosity and blessing.
'Pay It Forward'
Twenty-five thousand cards were printed up asking anyone who received one of these acts of kindness or generosity to "pay it forward" so there'd be an ever-widening ripple effect.
"Every sector of our community was a part of 40 Days of Generosity -- municipal level, government, the city hall -- the mayor made a declaration," Brienne Robertson, one of the 40 Days' organizers, said.
"It's helping others on such a grand scale that there was no way the city would not step up and say, 'Go for it,'" Titusville Mayor Jim Tulley said of the initiative.
So how did this play out? A typical scene was repeated over and over again at drive-throughs in Titusville where one generous act by one customer would kick off a positive chain-reaction.
"The person would say, 'I'd like to take care of the bill for the people behind me' - and you would hear it going on for eight, nine, 10, 15 cars later, taking care of the bill behind them," Robertson said. "That happened many, many, many times."
The community threw a huge feast for the entire police department.
"The police chief told me no one had ever come out and just fed all of them. We tried to take enough for the second shift and everything," Park Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Richard Lord said.
Three Thousand-Dollar Return on $20
Lord's church used 40 Days of Generosity for a teaching time as well as ministry.
For instance, one Sunday the church passed out to the congregation a total of $600 in envelopes marked with a "G" for "Give" or an "I" for "Invest." It was a good chance to see what different things God would do through the giving and investing.
Casey Green received an "I" envelope with $20. She invested it in sign-making materials.
"And I made signs to put around the community to have a garage sale," Green told CBN News. "And then I let everyone in my church know that I was having one, and I just collected donations for about two weeks."
The garage sale ended up being a massive event, raising $3,208 - quite a return on Green's $20 investment.
40 Days of Generosity was also used as a time of fund-raising. Part of Green's money went into the pool of $200,000 raised to build a massive splash pad in Titusville's Sand Point Park. It will be the only water facility for kids to play in in any of North Brevard County's 30 parks.
The rest of the money from Green's huge garage sale is going to help the Salvation Army build an emergency family shelter in Titusville.
Giving Away Birthday Money
One of the other organizers was Trey Gordon, who also wanted to make 40 Days of Generosity a family affair.
"We sat down as a family and went through the 40 Days action guide, trying to say, 'How could we do this as a family?'" he told CBN News.
His son Ryan shocked Trey with his generosity.
"I decided I wanted to give my birthday money away to the family shelter fund," Ryan said.
But at the moment he announced that, he didn't even know how much he'd get for his soon-to-come birthday.
He ended up receiving $85, a fortune for a 10-year-old. He put it all right into an offering can as soon as he could.
"That was a lot of money even for me as an adult," said Trey, who was so proud to watch Ryan honor his promise to donate whatever cash he received. "Once it came in, to see him put it in the can - he didn't hesitate at all."
Then an anonymous donor mailed Ryan something right afterward.
"They gave me a gift card for $80 back," Ryan said.
"That was just a real blessing and to be able to say, 'See, son, you were faithful and God honored you in that,'" his father said.
A Real Pizza Party
For years, Katrina Foster Fernandez lived in a real down-on-its-luck ramshackle neighborhood complex in a poorer part of Titusville. For 40 Days of Generosity, she decided she wanted to buy 20 pizzas, go back to the complex, and bless her former neighborhood with that tasty food.
But when her friends began to hear of her plan, this one act of generosity mushroomed into a massive party as they decided they wanted to donate, too.
"Everybody kept wanting to get in, get in, get in," said Fernandez's former next-door neighbor, Syncia Jeanty. "And that's how it started."
Meanwhile, the random acts of kindness kept occurring all over Titusville. For instance, restaurant staff would sometimes find tips bigger than the bill.
"For waitresses, people would just be asking, 'How can I bless you? What is it you need?'" Robertson reported.
This would sometimes lead to massive blessings from customers.
"A single mom would say, 'My electric bill is due; I can't pay it. The electricity's going off tomorrow if I don't pay it.' And then there is the $86 exactly that she needs," Roberston said.
Blessing those in Need
Robertson herself jumped right into the random acts of kindness -- like when she and her daughters came upon an acquaintance who had fallen on hard times.
They bought him some food and then Robertson contacted the man's former employer, asking that he re-hire the man.
"God puts people in our path for a reason," Robertson explained. "And he needed food; he needed a job."
John Houvardas co-owns Steve's Diner, a popular destination of churchgoers in Titusville. He loved what he was seeing during the 40 Days.
"People were picking up other people's checks and not letting them know who picked it up," he said.
He and his partner were so wowed by what they saw that they've decided they want to bless others, too.
"We're talking about going to the churches that we have around town and designating one day where they can bring in the families in need and we'll buy them all dinner," Houvardas stated.
Having Your Own 40 Days
Pastor Brian Kluth writes and speaks about generosity as a ministry and came up with the idea for 40 Days of Generosity. He helped Titusville organize and execute theirs, the first city-wide 40 Days of Generosity there's been.
Now he's hoping to see them spread everywhere.
"The rest of my life is dedicated to helping churches and communities bring 40 Days of Generosity into their community," Kluth said. "To see God's love in action and to see lives touched and changed."
He encourages anyone interested in putting on their own 40 Days of Generosity to visit the Loving Our Community website.
And those who'd like to have their own free collection of "pay it forward" cards can download sheets of them and related material here.