A $1 bill in today’s economy might seem to have little value. But Bahia Vista Mennonite Church in Sarasota, Fla., has discovered how a single dollar bill can multiply for positive results on individual lives in the local community.
The program, “Change for a Dollar,” encourages folks to place $1 bills, in addition to their normal offering, into the basket as it’s passed. Anyone in the congregation who becomes aware of people needing help in the community can access the collected dollars. To encourage congregants to reach beyond people they know, funds can only be used for people not associated with Bahia Vista.
To avoid being burdensome for the requestor, the fund’s accessibility requires only a simple application form that is submitted to a leadership team member. The team member decides quickly on the request. Most are granted.
Most requests are $200 to $300 but can range from a $25 gift card to a request of $1,200. The money is given to the congregant, who presents it to the person in need. In cases where delinquent bills are paid, checks are made payable to the creditor. Funds have been used in a variety of ways, including paying utility bills to avoid service cutoff, catching up rent to halt evictions from homes or covering car insurance.
Recently at the downtown farmer’s market, Jerome Yoder met “Bucket Tom,” a street person who carries all his possessions — except for a prized guitar — in a five-gallon bucket. Yoder learned Tom’s guitar had been stolen. He was dependent on his guitar to earn a livelihood, making the loss devastating. Yoder immediately thought of “Change for a Dollar.” He found a used guitar for $150 with a sturdy case and lock and purchased it with the funds. Delivering the guitar to Tom was an exhilarating experience.
“This type of assistance has helped our congregation have more contact with people outside our church community, and that’s good,” Yoder said.
Every $1 bill put in the offering goes to the program. All other cash goes to the general operating budget. To keep the program simple and easy to implement, larger denominations are not accepted. Some people are so enthusiastic they go to the bank for extra dollar bills to place in the offering.
Since the program’s inception in 2012, more than $93,000 has been disbursed. This last year, $15,000 was distributed to 50 recipients. Many visitors and winter residents attend Bahia Vista, and “Change for a Dollar” has allowed them to participate in something meaningful to them.
Pastor Roger Shenk introduced the program after being involved in a similar program while living in Portland, Ore.
“The impact on the church is that people who wouldn’t normally contribute to an offering are now in the habit of doing so,” he said. “It taps into that part of everyone that sees themselves as generous.”
Dennis Bontrager, Bahia Vista pastor to seniors, implemented the program and worked to keep its process easy.
“Donors aren’t necessarily expected to stay in touch with the recipients,” he said. “They are, nevertheless, encouraged to tell their stories to the congregation — thereby inspiring others to become aware of needs around them.”
Recently, a couple purchasing new tires overheard a conversation with a distraught lady who also needed tires but lacked money to pay for them. The pair intervened and were able to help thanks to “Change for a Dollar.”
JB Miller lives in Sarasota, Fla., and attends Covenant Mennonite Fellowship.