By Martha Thompson and Jessica Brodie
South Carolina children in need will receive funding for new books for their school libraries thanks to a gift from the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church and its Million Book Effort.
The South Carolina Conference of the UMC donated $22,000 to three Title I schools in the state: West Lee Elementary School, Rembert; Main Street Elementary School, Lake City; and Greeleyville Elementary School, Greeleyville.
The schools received a check for $7,665.28 apiece.
“For me, it was a tremendous feeling of joy to see the smiles on the faces of the children and teachers and know that United Methodists in South Carolina were making a difference in their lives,” Bishop Jonathan Holston said.
The funding came about thanks to the Million Book Effort the South Carolina Conference of the UMC initiated in 2014. United Methodists across the state were asked to donate funds and books to the initiative. The purpose was to raise awareness about the needs of public education by collecting books for preschool and elementary-aged children. Within nine months, 500,000 books had been collected and distributed to local schools, churches, community libraries, childcare centers and nonprofits that work directly with children. At the same time, many churches in the conference gave monetary gifts for the purpose of supporting underfunded public school libraries.
“There was over $22,000 in the Million Book Effort account that churches had given to our book drive last year,” said Martha Thompson, chair of the Children in Poverty Task Force for the South Carolina UMC.
The Children in Poverty Task Force asked Thompson to work with the State Department of Education to help identify schools who could benefit from a gift for the library.
“All three schools are Title I schools with 94 percent receiving free or reduced lunches,” Thompson said.
On Nov. 18, Thompson, along with other UMC leaders—including South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston, Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Kathy James, Greenwood District Superintendent (and task force member) the Rev. James Friday and Director of Communications Matt Brodie—made a road trip around the state to personally present the schools’ principals with their check.
“In each of the three schools we visited, there were United Methodist teachers who were familiar with the Million Book Effort and excited to see us there,” James said. “The reality is that there are many other schools who would also benefit from such a gift, which points to the need for better funding of our public schools around the state.”
Dr. Marilyn Bennett, principal of West Lee Elementary School in the Hartsville District, was speechless when told about the gift. She had retired from teaching but returned to West Lee Elementary as principal to make a difference to the children she loved. Dr. Robin Dease, Hartsville District superintendent, and other United Methodists in the area made a special trip to be part of the presentation.
Dr. Shemmica Moore, principal of Main Street Elementary in Lake City, not only needed books, but there were no tables in the library nor soft areas to enhance the environment. The Rev. John Hipp, Florence District superintendent, along with the Florence School District #3 Board of Trustees, gathered for the check presentation to Moore.
As the team drove to present the check to Greeleyville Elementary in Williamsburg County, the ravages of the state’s recent floods were evident. At the school, Berlinda Mack was waiting with open arms of welcome. As students and faculty gathered in the small library for Bishop Holston’s presentation, shouts of joy and disbelief rang through the halls.
“Greeleyville Elementary had never had visitors to present a check for $7,665.28,” Thompson said. “Maybe, just maybe, it was a God-sized dream.”
Thompson chairs the South Carolina Conference’s Children in Poverty Task Force. To learn more about its work, visit www.umcsc.org/home/ministries/children-poverty-initiative.