MILTON - While Halloween has not yet arrived, stores already are stocking their stores with Christmas trees, cards and toys. One Milton man wants to give far-away orphans the opportunity to enjoy the holidays with a stuffed animal of their own.
Kevin Mertz, of Milton, was moved to start Father's Hope, a locally-based project designed to engage youth, churches and other organizations in central Pennsylvania to help orphans around the world, after taking two mission trips through Revival Tabernacle, of Watsontown, to Choluteca, Honduras.
In June of last year, the first stop on the trip was to an orphanage, which was a new experience for Mertz.
Kevin Mertz, shown second from right, is surrounded by orphans while on a June mission trip to Choluteca, Honduras, through Revival Tabernacle, of Watsontown. The orphans he met on two mission trips to Honduras inspired him to start Father’s Hope, which will collect donations of stuffed animals through the end of November to donate to orphans around the world.
"I never spent a lot of time with children," he said. "We were kneeling, taking pictures, and a boy sat on my knee. The little boy didn't want to leave my side."
When the team had to get on the bus, the boy followed, watching as they drove away.
"I got to thinking, 'What can we do to bring some love to orphans of the world?'" Mertz said. "They have so much love to give."
He kept getting signs to do something to help the orphans. He said it is important to listen when God speaks, so when he went back to Honduras this summer, he decided to move forward.
Mertz wanted to use local youth to help the orphans from around the world and found interested children to make cards.
He decided he needed more than hand-made cards and began to collect small stuffed animals to donate with them.
Donations of new or gently-used stuffed animals may be dropped off weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the Standard Journal, 21 N. Arch St., Milton, or at the entryway of Revival Tabernacle, 960 Susquehanna Trail, Watsontown, during service times.
"So far, I have received well over 1,000 donations of small stuffed animals," Mertz said. "I am extremely thankful for these donations. The more donations that are received, the more orphans whose lives can be touched through this outreach."
People have been donating stuffed animals, hundreds at a time, as organizations also have been collecting them from others.
Donations will be accepted through November so that children can receive them by Christmas.
The stuffed animals definitely will be sent to Honduras, but also possibly to Haiti and other countries, depending on how many stuffed animals are received, Mertz said.
He has seen how children there do not have the amount of toys that Americans have, and thus cherish them all the more.
"It's important to reach out to those who aren't as blessed as we are in the United States," Mertz said. "It's also important to reach out to those in the United States who are not as blessed as we are individually."
For more information, visit the Father's Hope Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.