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When he first broached the idea of a "reverse collection" with a few members of his church's leadership team, the Rev. MARC BROWN got a few funny looks.

These, after all, aren't the best of financial times at Savoy United Methodist, which has already had to dip into its modest reserves to stay in the black.

But no one at the church on Old Church Road seems too concerned about the budget these days. Their pastor put their minds on more important matters when he announced on a recent Sunday that instead of taking money that morning, he would be giving it away — about $7,000 in all, in envelopes containing $5, $10, $20, $50, even a few Benjamin Franklins.

Everyone in attendance got an envelope — from small children to senior citizens — with only one bit of instruction from their pastor: Go do some good.

Brown says he put it like this: "If Jesus gave this to you with the challenge of 'I want you to build my kingdom and help people become aware of me,' how would you do that?"

"It was up to each of us to decide how we best used those funds to help others," says DAWN REAR, a member of the congregation of a little over 200, who turned us on to the story. "I thought this was a very unique way to get all of us to think about how fortunate we are and how important it is to stop and realize what's really important — helping others."

The stories of acts of kindness are starting to roll in — about the congregation member who was able to help a neighbor in a tight spot, about the woman in line at the grocery store who saw that the customer in front of her didn't have enough money to pay for everything, so she reached in her purse to help.

Says Brown: "When we first proposed this months ago, one of the guys in leadership said: 'This is one of the craziest things ever suggested. There's no way we can do this.'

"But as we continued to talk and pray the last few months, he said: 'There's no way we can't do this. We have to.'"

Hungry helpers

The deacons at FIRST PRESBYTERIAN OF MONTICELLO are mailing out 60 County Market gift cards to the less fortunate.

Congregants at Mahomet's LIFE COMMUNITY CHURCH are inviting UI international students to their homes for Thursday dinner.

And, as has become tradition at Champaign's EMMANUEL MEMORIAL EPISCOPAL, the entire altar will soon be covered with food to be distributed to the hungry.

Other area churches load up baskets, boxes and bags full of turkey (or ham) and all the fixings and deliver them to those in need, those without family here or those stuck working Thursday. All told, nine of them will feed close to 2,500 families for Thanksgiving:

1,250 (STONE CREEK's "Big Give" in C-U and Rantoul) + 400 (Danville's ST. JAMES UNITED METHODIST) + 260 (St. Vincent de Paul Society at Urbana's ST. PATRICK'S) + 200 (Champaign's GOOD SHEPHERD LUTHERAN) + 150 (THE VINEYARD) + 100 (HOOPESTON CHURCH OF GOD) + 61 (ARTHUR UMC) + 40 (Champaign's THREE HIERARCHS GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH) + 30 (OGDEN UMC) = 2,491.