Church aims to build an ark

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church held a fund-raising garage sale in Soldotna on Saturday with the goal of purchasing an ark. They are not, however, preparing for a flood.

“There’s the water buffaloes on down to fish,” said the church’s parish director Marlys Verba, describing the animals that make up the “ark” her church intends to purchase. The ark, in this case, is a package of agricultural animals purchased with donated funds and distributed for free to residents of developing countries by the charity Heifer International.

Like its biblical namesake, the ark that Our Lady Perpetual Help wants to purchase contains paired animals: two water buffalo, two cows, two sheep, and two goats, as well as honeybees, rabbits, and chickens. Verba said that the agricultural gift is meant to encourage local self-reliance and to benefit a large community. In addition to using milk, meat, and other subsistence and commercial products from donated animals, recipients are encouraged to share the offspring of their animals with other families.

Verba said that while individual parish members — including one of its three pastors, Father Bob Liesing — have made donations to Heifer International for a long time, the parish as a group has been giving to the charity for three years.

“But we’ve never had enough money for an ark,” Verba said.

Heifer International prices its ark package at $5,000. Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s effort to buy the ark began with $2,000 raised during Lent last year. According to organizer Thelma Antila the garage sale is meant to push them to their goal.

“It took us a month to get everything ready,” Antila said of the large garage sale. “People kept bringing stuff in, so I’m going to say at least 30 or 40 families were involved.”

Before the garage sale, there was $2,500 in the church’s ark fund. Antila estimated that the first day of the garage sale raised approximately $1,700.

Verba was uncertain of exactly what country the church’s ark would be sent to and how locals would use it. She said that Heifer International uses donated money to purchase and distribute animals at its own discretion.

“We just get notification that yes, our money had gone to purchase these particular animals and not where they had gone,” Verba said.

Growing out of a Church of the Brethren program that begin in Indiana in 1944, Heifer International is currently based in Little Rock, Arkansas. According to the charity-rating service, Heifer International received $128 million in contributions during the fiscal year 2014, 71 percent of which were spent on its programs and services.

Verba said she had learned of Heifer International through a flyer in the mail and had chosen to support it because she believed it offered affordable ways to give.

“Just because it appeared to me and the (parish) committee as we were looking at it that there were small ways people could donate,” Verba said. “For 10 or 15 or 20 dollars, this is what you could get. And there’s this larger thing you could purchase. Just because of the wide range of opportunity for people to give. It was doable.”

Garage sale customer Jackie Tagert agreed that the charity’s accessibility gave it a strong appeal. In addition to her garage sale purchase, Tagert said that she had previously donated to Heifer International as an individual.

“I don’t have a lot of money, but (through Heifer International) I’ve bought chickens and trees, and soccer balls for the kids,” Tagert said. “It was in my price range, a couple of ducks each year.”

Tagert said she had researched the charity before giving to it.

“I looked into it, and they’re OK,” Tagert said. “But there are so many out there that aren’t. They take the money and they don’t do what they say. It goes into the pockets of the higher-ups, and it doesn’t get to the people that need it. You’ve got to be careful with your money and make sure it goes to the people who need it.”

Tagert said she wasn’t a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, but “just a good Christian, I hope.”


Reach Ben Boettger at

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