The Center for Rural Development is a nice place. But it's hard to beat Bear Wallow Farm.
The sprawling seasonal funland on the far western reaches of Pulaski County was the scene of the annual Project 58:10 fundraiser, which helps out kids and families in need in Pulaski County.
Project 58:10 is named after the Bible verse Isaac 58:10, which reads, " ... (A)nd if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."
The mission of the project is to provide meals for food insecure children -- that is, not having enough to eat at home for regular, nutritious meals -- here in Pulaski County. Project 58:10 started a little over eight years ago, as an effort involving High Street Baptist Church and Victory Christian Fellowship.
"(It's) a backpack ministry," said Project 58:10 board member Bo Pyles. "(Statistics show) one-in-five to one-in-six kids are food insecure, meaning they don't have food over the weekend away from school. For us, it's an opportunity to close those physical needs for them (so they) can come back to school after the weekend and they're worried about school stuff rather than food."
Traditionally, the fundraiser event has been held at The Center, as a more formal dinner with a silent auction, entertainment, and guest speaker. Some well-known names, such as WCW wrestler Bill Goldberg, have dropped by to help the cause.
"This event here is probably the majority moneymaker for our ministry," said Pyles. "Right now, we're looking at corporate sponsorships and donations and seat sales for this -- Before anybody walks through the door and gets to the silent auciton table, we're going to bring in about $65,000 just through that, which is big for us."
It costs about $160,000 to keep Project 58:10 program running each year, so having that kind of success with the fundraising event is a big deal. This year, they decided to do things a little bit differently -- and move the event outside. Bear Wallow Farm is known for being an agritourism destination in the autumn, with a chance to interact with live animals such as adorable goats, get lost in a corn maze, or launch a pumpkin into the air to see how far it will go.
"We're changing it up so families can come, kids can participate," said Pyles. "It's a big deal for us."
The event -- termed the "Noonday Festival" as inspired by the Bible verse (even though it took place Saturday evening) -- featured local musicians such as Jon New, carnival games such as a dunking booth (for which some of the pastors from involved churches and other figures volunteered to get wet), facepainting, hayrides, a chance to see the animals up close, and food like ribeye sandwiches, baked beans, and cotton candy.
"Bear Wallow has graciously opened up their gates one week before they do their regular opening, so we get full run of the place -- the petting zoo, the corn maze, all the activities for the kids," said Pyles. "Even up through adult, we have some things -- even axe throwing."
The Project 58:10 board has expanded this year to 10 members, including individuals from each church involved in the packing process, Victory, High Street, Oak Hill Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Somerset and East Somerset Baptist Church.
"Those are the churches that pack every week and deliver bags every week to every school in Pulaski County," said Pyles.
Additionally, two new board members represent family resource centers in local schools and "have helped us open up that communication line a little bit better," said Pyles, to have a clearer idea of how many bags are needed each week and similar details.
Currently, Project 58:10 is delivering around 800 bags a week to every school system in Pulaski County, throughout the school year. Before breaks in the calendar (fall, spring, Christmas), kids get a double bag, to help them through the off-period. During the summer, 58:10 works with feeding programs and libraries to drop off bags in locations where kids who need food can go get them.
Project 58:10 had sold around 925 tickets as of Friday, and expected to have even more come through the gates Saturday evening. It's a great start toward a new Noonday era for the charitable endeavor.
"We're really excited," said Pyles. "This is our first event outside and we're hoping that it piques an interest where people want to participate more next year. I'd like to get more people involved, more churches involved, in setting up something for families and kids to raise money for them."