Pumpkin Fest crowd helps orphanage

T-L Photo/SHELLEY HANSON Martha Hershberger, second from left, poses with some of her children at Shekinah Fellowship in downtown Barnesville on Friday. From left are Katie Kasoh holding her daughter Zuri; Hershberger; Hannah, 11; Krista, 15; Leona; and Kara, 13

BARNESVILLE — Tucked among the many pumpkin-themed food, gift and craft stands, a small church in downtown Barnesville is seeking to help children left orphaned in Africa.

During the busy Barnesville Pumpkin Festival time, Shekinah Fellowship, 145 W. Main St., opens its doors to the public and serves a fundraiser dinner that helps support the church’s orphanage in Kenya — Abba’s Heart Children’s Home.

Martha Hershberger, who co-founded the orphanage with her husband Roy, on Friday said back in 2003 they took a mission trip to visit a hospital in Africa and discovered there were five orphans receiving care there. They had nowhere to go, no one to take care of them. The children’s stories touched their hearts, and the couple felt a calling to help.

When they came back home, they started a tire store, Joe’s Tires, which expanded into seven other locations. Years later in 2013, they learned there was a plot of land available to buy in a village southeast of Nairobi. They decided to build the orphanage there, in part with proceeds from the business.

Today the orphanage is home to 12 children ranging in age from 15 years to 2 years old who are cared for by two “house parents” native to the country. The goal is not to have the children be adopted out, but to raise them in a loving environment until they can become self sustaining, Hershberger said.

“These kids have been through God knows what. … We want them to have a home and realize their dreams and help them fulfill them,” she said. “We want them to realize they can go out and make a difference in the world.”

Hershberger said they have been to the orphanage three times since it was established, and on the third visit the children were so happy to see them, they ran to them and told the family they loved them.

“I had a heart for Africa for so long and I didn’t know why. … I think God places a passion in you — in what he wants you to do,” she said.

Hershberger said they hope to build a school in the future along with a playground for the children. In addition to fundraisers, the church also seeks sponsors for each child. Hershberger said she also would like to help the orphaned children of Ohio some day as well.

The church’s dinner during the festival included Amish-style mashed potatoes topped with either beef noodles, chicken noodles or Swedish meatballs. They also had pocket-style pies in pumpkin and other flavors.

The Barnesville Pumpkin Festival continues today and Sunday. Today’s highlight includes the Giant Pumpkin Parade through the downtown area starting at 1:45 p.m. The Watt Center, 511 Watt Ave., Barnesville, also will continue its used book sale from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The building once served as the office for the Watt Car & Wheel Co. started in 1865.