I asked Ben Benson, Good Neighbor Festival (GNF) Chairman to recount the event’s history. This is what he told us:
In 1986, a hard working Church family found themselves more than $200,000.00 in debt. This was not unusual in the early and mid 80’s, as many good farmers had gone belly up. After selling the farm and farm equipment, they were still more than $40,000.00 short and were about to loose the house that they were building for themselves.
A group discussion in the church parking lot went something like this: John Foreman said, “We have to do something.” George Alvin Harrell said, “We can have a festival here on church grounds. I said, “Agreed, we have to try." George Alvin then said, “Hey, we are being good neighbors, let’s call this the “Good Neighbor Festival.” And so it began.
We began holding planning meetings and invited a reporter from the Virginian Pilot to one meeting. The next morning we were pleasantly surprised to find a report of our meeting and goals on the front page of the Virginian Pilot. That started the media attention we desperately needed. Shortly thereafter Channels 3 and 13 joined in passing the word of the upcoming event. The word spread that we would need donations to amass the amount needed to save the home. Like manna from heaven, the contributions started coming in, some were as small as $1.00 but all were blessed by our Lord, and welcome.
On the day of that first Good Neighbor Festival, reporters and television crews were at the church asking questions of the participants. Some that I remember went like this: to our Pastor, Emmett Diggs, “Preacher do you think this is the solution to all the farmers going broke?” Emmett replied, “No, but I think it might be the solution to this one family’s needs.” And asked of Larry Norfleet, Why are you doing this?’ and Larry answered, “I don’t know, maybe we’ve all been watching too many episodes of the Walton’s.” If Larry had had two weeks to formulate an answer, could he have come up with a better answer? I think not!
At our first breakfast it seemed every one had a ticket and many would put a $10.00 or $20.00 bill on top of their ticket. When I looked up at the line I noticed several Chesapeake Fireman in line who had put from $20.00 to $50.00 on top of their tickets! Well, before we quit serving breakfast our cash box was full, and so it went all throughout the festival. The rest is history; we raised the money to save the home.
Soon after our first festival, a neighborhood family had fallen on hard times and desperately needed help. Upon going to our minister, we found just a little over $100.00 in the emergency fund. The only way we could help was by chipping in.
Our committee met again and George Alvin said, “Someone in the community always needs help. Why don’t we make this an annual event and put all the proceeds back into the neighborhood?”
We made the decision to hold an annual festival on the church grounds and not to solicit the public for donations but to use all profits from the festival itself to help ease the pain of the less fortunate in our community.
Over the past 14 years we have raised and disbursed over $140,000.00. With your help, and the Lord’s blessing we will continue to do so.
Our motto is “Furthering the Lord's work in our community” and we are rather proud of the job we have done in the past, while being fully aware that resting our laurels is not permitted. Much still needs to be done and can be done with your help.
“We are our brother’s keeper.”
“When you have done a good deed or service to someone in need, knowing that they can never repay you, that day you have lived and done your Father’s will.”