by Jonathan Weaver
A group of students and parishioners from West Kittanning were counting their blessings during the Thanksgiving break after a November mission trip.
About 30 Grace Christian School students and Grace Brethren Church parishioners volunteered at the 2nd Annual Harvest Festival in eastern North Carolina picking potatoes.
The picking was held at First Fruits Farm – which produced more than 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes toward local hunger relief efforts in 2014.
Not only is this 8th Grader Jessica Buchanan’s first semester at Grace Christian, but it was her first mission trip.
“I like helping people – this was important to me,” Buchanan said. “(It taught me) to be thankful in all circumstances.
“I think it was the poorest part in North Carolina, so there are a lot of homeless people there.”
The Apollo student already had a pair of gloves to take, but felt guilty she wasn’t able to help more. The school T-shirts and boots ended up not helping very much.
“We did a lot of preparation for it; however, we weren’t exactly that well-prepared for the rain,” Buchanan laughed. “It rained and started thundering – I was covered in mud and water.”
Buchanan went on the trip with her mother, Sally – the Youth Director at Apollo Free Methodist Church.
10th Grader Cole Fiscus, of Cowansville, has picked potatoes on his family farm before, but never like they do in North Carolina.
“They plow them up and I just usually go out and take them,” Fiscus said. “And their soil is a lot sandier, so it hurts. It’s real-gritty.
“It was easier before it rained.”
Students Chancey Lamison and Justice Houston were in a group with four other boys that didn’t mind the rain – even when they were sprayed by the two-wheel-drive vehicles.
“We went swimming in a pond in the middle of the field,” Lamison said.
Principal Darlene Edwards laughed off the pond swimming and said the mission trip was memorable.
“We had a good time – I’d go back in a wink,” Edwards said.
The farm is owned by former National Football League Center Jason Brown.
“They give 100 percent of what they grow – I was under the impression their first cleaning they give to food banks, but they give it all,” Edwards said. “Their goal was to pick 200,000 pounds.”
While Principal Edwards is unaware of the final totals picked during the Harvest Festival, she said the group did fill a semi – and that students were covered “from head-to-foot” in mud.
The more-than $1,000 collected during last semester’s “Penny Wars” helped support the trip.