As the temperature dipped below 65 degrees Friday night — cold for Floridians — families arrived at Destiny Community Church bundled up in sweaters and pants to celebrate the success of the church’s inaugural BUY A TREE. CHANGE A LIFE. event.
The parking lot of the Newberry church, located at 20820 W. Newberry Road, was transformed for the Outdoor Christmas Party & Food Truck Rally. It was decorated with 7-foot-tall snowmen and Santa Claus inflatables, princess castle bounce houses, twinkling white Christmas lights and Southern food trucks galore.
The rally was intended to sell any remaining trees from the church's annual BUY A TREE. CHANGE A LIFE. fundraiser in late November, said Alexis Meacham, the church’s finance manager.
Instead, it became a celebration of the successful fundraiser after the church sold all of its 150 Christmas trees and raised about $36,000, said Marc Woodstuff, the church’s site director.
About one third of the about 200 attendees were wearing face coverings at the outdoor event.
Tiffany Clanton, a 32-year-old attendee from Newberry, wasn’t wearing a mask and said she wasn’t worried about contracting COVID-19.
“We just came to enjoy the party. My son is two and he wanted to play and we wanted to get some food and just have some family time.”
Half of the money from the Christmas tree sales will go to help children in countries such as Guatemala and Cambodia, through an organization called People for Care and Learning, which provides children with basic necessities and opportunities to learn. The other half will help children in need locally, Meacham said.
The church will use the local money to work with the city and nearby schools to buy school supplies for children in need, donate to families in crisis and throw baby showers for young, pregnant women with Sira, a local pregnancy center, Woodstuff said.
“This is a serving church and we want to serve our kingdom for Jesus,” he said. “It is ingrained in our church DNA to serve.”
At the celebration, children wrote letters to Santa and “The Grinch” was projected for attendees to watch from folding chairs and blanketed patches of the lawn. Nearby, vendors such as 29:11 BBQ & Catering, Miller’s Funnel Cakes & Deep Fried Oreos and Crave Hot Dogs and Barbecue sold food.
Monica Brooke, 48, and her husband Gary Brooke, 57, have been attending services at Destiny Community Church for a year now.
“There’s food, so we had to come tonight,” Gary said.
By 6 p.m., the couple had already shared a smoked sausage sandwich, a smoked pork sandwich, shrimp skewers and macaroni and cheese, they said.
Monica said buying the food was their way of supporting the cause, as they are both allergic to Christmas trees.
Each vendor at the event committed to donate at least 10% of their sales to the fundraiser.
Emily Modas, a Newberry High School junior, is the 17-year-old owner of em’s munchies, a dessert company she started in April using money from pet sitting and dog walking. She said she was excited to be able to sell her treats such as brownies, cookies and dog treats at the event.
“Helping people in general is something nice to do, but especially when it’s local,” Modas said. “In Newberry, everyone knows each other.”
Meacham said the event compensated for the ones they had to cancel due to COVID-19. These included the church’s annual Easter egg hunt, which typically draws in about 1,500 people, and it’s fall festival which brings in about 700 people.
The church members haven't just sat around since March, though.
Meacham said they found ways to work in small groups to help the community by making meals for foster families, doing oil changes for single mothers and widows and placing flowers on graves people weren’t able to visit.
These past two events helped the church members get back to doing what they love, Meacham said.
“It really felt like we were able to kind of get back to helping people and doing this thing that we enjoy doing,” she said.