Pastor harnesses online giving

Shaun King raises money to benefit children at Atlanta school

This Holiday Heroes profile is from 2009; nominate your hero for 2010.

Shaun King, a 30-year-old, buzz-cut pastor, taps on the keypad of his BlackBerry while sitting in the fifth floor Midtown office suite of his fledgling ministry, the Courageous Church.

“People from all around the world are giving,” he said, looking at the screen. “Somebody from Chicago gave $20 five minutes ago. Somebody from Atlanta just gave $5.” He paused. “I don’t know any of these people.”

But they, through the ubiquity of the Internet, know of King and his church’s annual fund-raiser to buy uniforms and toys for 500 students at Frank L. Stanton Elementary School in Atlanta.

His association with the school started 12 years ago, when King was a history major at Morehouse College on a scholarship that required he perform community service.

He ended up working with the students, mentoring them, helping with school work.

“He made a difference in the lives of students,” remembered Barbara Denson, the Stanton teacher who was his mentor in those days.

Along the way, he discovered that what he wanted to do with his own life was not teach or study history but motivate people and do community work.

Last year, when King decided to start a downtown ministry, he recalled his days at Stanton and the young people who wore the same school uniform, day after day.

“I realized that many of their parents were too poor to buy the uniforms,” he said.

So he decided to raise money to buy uniforms and, because it was Christmastime, to give each child a toy, allowing them to choose what they wanted.

Because he didn’t have a church to raise the money, he passed the offering plate, so to speak, on the Internet.

He posted videos of the children on YouTube, Facebook and MySpace and got the word out with Twitter. In four weeks, he raised $21,000, enough to buy the uniforms and gifts. He was featured on the “Today” show as “the Facebook pastor.” This year, he went to the Web again and raised $22,500.

At the school, “students were all abuzz about getting these things again this year,” said Nikki Durr, a Stanton teacher who helped coordinate the effort.

“For some of them, it may be the only gift they truly get to choose and, for some, the only gift they will actually get this year,” Durr said.

In the end, King reached his mark with contributions from 400 people in 30 states and four countries. He and volunteers wrapped the gifts.

The next day in an school auditorium full of ecstatic children, the Big Give, as King calls it, was a roaring, whooping, shrieking success.