Hot on the heels of last week’s Day of Service – part of the civil rights-themed Empowerment Week – local residents are gearing up for another day to lend their skills to the greater good of the community.
The second annual Magic City Miracle is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 29, kicking off at Linn Park with the aim of having Birminghamians aid the less fortunate.
The collaborative effort between 30 to 40 local churches and numerous private and corporate sponsors is nonreligious in nature, according to the Methodist founders. Rather, they assert, the event involves a variety of forces in the Birmingham community and brings the city together in a day of service. As many as 2000 people are expected to participate.
“Magic City Miracle is totally unique in that it’s the first Birmingham service event that combines the forces of community churches, the government, businesses and nonprofits,” said Wade Griffith, a pastor at Liberty Crossings United Methodist Church and one of the creators of Magic City Miracle. “Pretty much anywhere Birmingham people are in need on the day of the event, we are there to help.”
Magic City Miracle launched in the summer of 2012 after Liberty Crossings United Methodist Church discovered a grant from the United Methodist Communications Team that would fund any project outside the walls of the church. Liberty Crossings and a few other local Methodist churches applied for the grant in July 2012 and hastily prepared a marketing campaign for the day of service that would take place just two months later, September 29, 2012. The day was an unambiguous success in spite of the short planning period. Nearly 1,000 Birminghamians volunteered at more than 60 local sites ranging from community gardens to Section 8 housing.
Griffith said much of his reasoning for pushing for the launch of Magic City Miracle is related to Birmingham’s geographic location in the Bible Belt: Christians are taught to serve their community and help the less fortunate. And the “Bible Belt” has one of the highest proportions of active Christians in America. So shouldn’t there be a surplus of resources for the needy in this region?
“My thought was, rather than being the ‘Bible Belt’, wouldn’t it be better if we were known as the ‘Servant Belt?’” said Griffith. “Less talking about what Jesus did and more doing what he did?”
This year, organizers expect around the 2,000 volunteers to serve at more than 100 local sites. Sponsorship money has also increased, more than doubling from agencies like Alabama Power, Serra Toyota, Bradley Arant, Dunn Construction and Hygia Health Services. And while the churches behind the creation of Magic City Miracle are Methodist, most of the 30 to 40 churches expected to participate this year belong to a variety of other denominations.
“The Methodist piece of Magic City Miracle is like a launching pad, a platform that can be used to handle the overhead costs,” said Griffith. “We don’t want the credit; we just want to do whatever we can to facilitate bringing the city together to help the less fortunate.”
Religious leaders involved in the day of service, like Nathan Carden, an associate pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church, are intent on stressing that anyone in the Birmingham community can participate in Magic City Miracle.
“Anybody can volunteer — there are projects for every skill level, interest, time commitment and age,” said Carden. “You can go visit the elderly in nursing homes, or you can go to the grocery store and make a food box for Jimmy Hale Mission. You can give five hours of your time, or you can give 45 minutes of your time.”
Organizers of Magic City Miracle also say that being a Christian is not a prerequisite for participation. More than 10 percent of people involved in last year’s event did not belong to a church, according to Griffith.
“It’s important to know that this is not a ‘church event,’” said Griffith. “No one is going to be asking what church you go to — it’s about supporting the needy as a community.”
Like last year’s volunteer sites, the more than 100 sites involved in Magic City Miracle 2013 will each have its own site leader, an expert who will guide and work alongside the teams of volunteers in their service while managing things like scheduling and supplies. Ken Stalnaker, a site leader last year at the West End community garden and again this year at Restoration Mission, said he enjoys giving people the ability to provide for themselves.
“I want to teach people how to fish instead of just feeding them,” said Stalnaker. “The community garden is a great example of this: it nourishes people while also teaching them about nutrition and serving as a source of commerce.”
Paige Hockman volunteered during last year’s day of service at Hope Lodge, a residence for cancer patients, and described meeting a man suffering from a painful throat cancer who was overjoyed to the point of tears when the volunteer group made a soft peach desert he could stand to swallow.
“It was the first solid meal he had eaten in six weeks,” said Hockman.
Hockman also said she enjoyed meeting a wide variety of Birminghamians while serving.
“People got to know other people who they probably would’ve never met had it not been for this day,” said Hockman. “I like the way that it brings such a diverse group of people together from all walks of life. The young and the old of various races, those with and without faith.”
Griffith said he thinks such impactful instances are what make Magic City Miracle great. He recalls a service site last year in which a group of families was making renovations on a shelter for battered women. Kids involved would ask their parents about the women who would be living where they were volunteering, and many parents would respond with the unpleasant truth. Despite the bleakness of the issue, Griffith said that the service site was one of the most appropriate contexts for the kids’ encounter with cold reality.
“Kids volunteering on the shelter site were introduced to some of the hard facts of the world that day,” said Griffith. “But they saw a response of compassion by people from all parts of the community toward those affected by domestic violence. So the young people in turn got fired up to make a difference.”
For more information on registration and Magic City Miracle, visit magiccitymiracle.org.