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Faith-based groups raise money through local fireworks stands

Jenny Seeman, 11, of Buffalo, Wyo., and her brother Aaron, 10, look over the fireworks on display this week inside the TNT Fireworks tent set up in the Cub Foods parking lot in Willmar. Faith groups operate two of Willmar's fireworks stands as fundraisers. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR -- When deciding whether to purchase your own fireworks for the Fourth of July, ask yourself, "What Would Jesus Do?"

The answer? Simple: Buy fireworks.

For the past week and a half, two faith-based organizations from the area have been staffing fireworks stands in Willmar as a way to raise money for group activities, community projects and mission trips.

In the parking lot of Cub Foods, the young adult faith group Joppa has worked around the clock at its TNT fireworks stand to raise money for community outreach projects. Joppa is an interdenominational group in Willmar for young adults in their 20s or 30s looking to "find a support system of people they want to do life with," according to the group's website.

"We gather to discover life and faith together," program director Caryn van Dijk said. "We're a small group, so this fundraiser helps carry us throughout the year."

During the year, Joppa is involved in various projects around the community. The group sponsors grocery giveaways in Willmar and has also partnered with United Way, Habitat for Humanity and Angel Food Ministry on different mission projects.

Last year, the group donated items to Willmar's Hope Pregnancy Center baby boutique, which provides baby clothes, blankets, diapers and other essentials for new or expecting mothers in exchange for "baby bucks" they earn by watching videos on pregnancy and parenting.

"(Their donation) means the world," said Cindy Clements, a volunteer at the center. "That's what we rely on -- people in the community to help us out. Without them, we wouldn't be able to keep going."

And though active in the community, the group's true focus extends far beyond service projects.

"Joppa reaches out to other young adults and shares the love of Christ," said Carl Persson, fireworks stand volunteer and Joppa member.

Joppa's fireworks stand opened June 24, and each day group members work from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. to sell the fireworks. When the stand closes, one or two volunteers stay overnight to guard the tent.

Another group, the Roseland Youth Fellowship, has also been busy selling fireworks at a TNT stand in the Menards parking lot. This group hopes to raise money for its annual mission trip to Chihuahua, Mexico.

For the past two years, the youth group has traveled to Mexico for one week in June to volunteer and help with construction projects. The 17 children and adults who went this year split their time between volunteering at an orphanage and helping a Mexican church construct its new building.

"This trip really helps the people in Mexico, because we go to the same place year after year," youth director Derreck Scharn said. "It also exposes youth to a different culture and opens their eyes to how people live. It teaches them to show compassion for people who have less."

The youth group, part of Roseland Reformed Church, has staffed a fireworks stand for the past two years in the Walmart parking lot. This is the group's first year at Menards.

"For us, it's the whole church and youth group working together," said Heather Bulthuis, a parent volunteer for the youth fellowship. "This is our big fundraiser."

TNT is a fireworks company that allows nonprofit organizations to raise funds through its fireworks stands. According to TNT's website, more than 5,000 groups raise money through these stands each year, with the average amount earned ranging from $3,000 to $6,000.

"This is a great fundraiser because it gets us out into the community, instead of trying to raise money within our church," Scharn said. "It's a lot of work, but it's worth it."

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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