Sarasota Big Give


Date: April 1, 2010
by: Loren Mayo | Community Editor

Dan Dickson stared at the $10 bill in his hand as he drove past a homeless man on Central Avenue. The man sat on the curb with his head between his legs, arms covering his face. Dickson, who has been unemployed for 10 months and is on the verge of losing his home, wasn’t sure who needed it more.

Two days prior, March 21, Dickson had attended Sunday service at First Church of the Nazarene, where some of his friends go to church. But he was caught completely off guard by what he witnessed as parishioners were asked to remove an envelope from the offering plate instead of giving to it.

The church had organized a secret reverse offering with guest speaker Kevin Cross, a certified public accountant from South Florida who is on a mission to help others follow a lifestyle of generosity, which he believes is the route to true satisfaction.

The envelopes — all 250 of them — contained $5, $10 or $20 cash from the church’s account. The reverse offering did have one catch — the congregation would have to use the money to help someone less fortunate and report back the following week with the resulting stories.

“I was out looking for a job when I saw a man my age with his whole life in a garbage bag,” Dickson said. “I turned around, got out and said, ‘I want to let you know I love you, and Jesus loves you, and you need to have faith in God.’”

The man tucked the $10 in his sock and promised he wouldn’t use it to purchase alcohol. Dickson told him to spend it however he wished and drove off in his truck, thinking he had completed his mission.

With $5 in his wallet, Dickson figured he had enough money to buy three cans of wet cat food from the vet for his overweight, 16-pound-cat, Freefall, who is on a special weight-management diet. One 8-pound bag of Freefall’s dry food costs $25, but Dickson knew he couldn’t afford that, even though the vet often advises that if the cat’s weight doesn’t get under control, he will have health problems once he’s older.

“I walked into the vet and grabbed the cans, but the employees told me to walk to the back, where the lab is,” Dickson said. “The girl hands me an 8-pound bag of food and six cans of wet food and says, ‘A lady who brings her cat in here donated this food to you.’ I almost started crying.”

Alexis Marcelle has attended First Church of the Nazarene for six years. Although she knew ahead of time that Cross would be speaking, she wasn’t prepared for his surprise reverse offering.

When she opened her white envelope, she found a $10 bill.

“I was driving home from church and it was pouring rain. I asked God to show me someone to help, and I saw some ladies struggling with black garbage bags,” Marcelle said. “They were soaking wet and walking toward the bus stop. I turned around and asked if they wanted a ride.”

The ladies, Deborah and Bernadette, politely declined at first, not wanting to ruin the interior of the car, but Marcelle got out in the rain, helped them into the car and asked where they needed to go. After much hesitation and vague answers such as “downtown,” the women chose the Salvation Army.

“We talked a bit, and I asked them how much it cost to stay at the Salvation Army — exactly $10,” Marcelle said. “I was thrilled when I found out it was $10 and I had exactly that to give them. I pray that they are safe wherever they are.”

Cross’ reverse offering has started a ripple effect within the congregation. Members are now brainstorming creative ways to share and add to the money.

“It makes you stop and think for a moment,” Marcelle said. “I was honored and wanted to do something good with it as soon as I could. It’s tremendous — like a spark that’s setting a fire throughout the church and everyone wants to be a part of it.”
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