Easter is a busy time for Carol Stark

By on March 28, 2018

Carol Stark, center, works with Ephrata residents and volunteers, left to right, Taj London, 15; Jayden Chalas, 11; Alex Mello 15; and Carlie Avelt, 15, to stuff plastic eggs with candy for the Ephrata Lions Easter egg Hunt, March 31, at Tom Crater Park. Photo by Art Petrosemolo

In mid-March, when Mike Rowe’s “Return the Favor” video program featuring Ephrata’s Carol Stark first aired on Facebook, more than two million people tuned in the first day. It was and is a tribute to Stark, who has been volunteering in Ephrata for more than three decades.

Working with volunteer teens (she calls ‘her kids’), Stark has done everything from stuffing plastic eggs with candy for Easter egg hunts, to organizing spaghetti dinners and helping to set-up for the Ephrata and New Holland Fairs.

But after having the opportunity to stop for a minute and talk about her passion for helping, it is the mentoring of ‘her kids,’ keeping them on the right path to complete their education and enter into responsible adulthood that really keeps her, at 74, going.

Stark was front page ­ above the fold news ­ in the Ephrata Review in November when she was honored by TV personality Rowe (Dirty Jobs) for her ongoing volunteer work and service to the community through the “4OurKids” program and other activities.

Stark was feted by friends and supporters ­ and many of the kids she has helped over the years at a Return the Favor ceremony at the Cocalico football stadium in late fall.

The big surprise of the night was that Hudson Media, the production company behind the show, had set up a Foundation in Stark’s name with a $50,000 grant allowing Stark, an active senior, to scale back her fundraising (a little bit) as she continues to mentor and support community youngsters ­ some that have serious needs and others that just need encouragement and a little push.

People can hear about Stark and be impressed by her work, but the numbers really tell the story. Stark is 74 years young and has lived in the County nearly 50 years with husband John, who retired after a long career at (then) Sperry New Holland.

Stark has been volunteering for 35 years. And just for the Ephrata Lions Easter egg hunt, Stark and her volunteer kids will stuff and seal nearly 3,000 eggs with candy for the March 31 event.

It takes several hours on five days and 20 volunteers to fill each egg with a piece of candy. Stark donates the plastic eggs and the candy, and has for years. Four of ‘her kids’ will help her spread the eggs the morning of the hunt at Tom Grater Park. And that’s just one project.

Oh, and Stark and husband John have eight children, 24 grandchildren and two great, great grandchildren of whom they are justly proud. And she has more than 400 Facebook friends.

Usually everything runs like clockwork with Stark and ‘her kids’ on projects, but not always.

For the egg stuffing project, she always makes cookies to keep the kids smiling and lets them do their thing on her dining room table after she shows them the drill. But, a couple of years ago, things were not as smooth, Stark explains.

“When we were packing the eggs for the hunt, we realized there were a bunch (she doesn’t say how many) that were empty.” After tracking down her volunteer, said Stark, “He said I had told him that he could eat a little candy if he wanted. I guess he didn’t understand I meant candy that wasn’t going into the plastic egg.” Stark continued, “We had to quickly get some extra candy to refill the eggs.”

Stark spent 20 years as a writer and photographer for the Ephrata Review, retiring in the early 2000s.

At the newspaper, she also was called on to help plan and run promotional programs from building floats for parades to buying flowers to decorate events.

Stark was hired by Joe Savage, predecessor to current Review editor Andy Fasnacht. Savage thought, Stark believes, that because she was outgoing and a good talker, she would make a decent reporter. “He was right,” Stark laughed.

Stark’s first instance of helping kids could have had a tragic end.

“I found a young girl unconscious in a ditch along the side of the road in Ephrata,” Stark said. “I thought she had a drug overdose.”

It turned out that the teen had been evicted from her apartment and was the mother of two children. Stark jumped in with both feet and found services for the young lady and, with friends, helped her re-settle into an apartment with her children and get back on her feet. Stark still keeps in touch with the now-grown woman who lives in the area.

Many the kids Stark has mentored stay in touch through facebook, e-mail or visit when they can. And recently one young man she had kept on track came up to visit from Alabama to take her to lunch. He picked Stark up in a big Hummer SUV.

“I said McDonald’s would be fine for lunch,” she laughed, “but he insisted we go out for steak.”

Although her work over the last three decades has not been as dramatic as what drew her into volunteering and helping, it none-the-less has been as important.

She has worked with the Ephrata Lives Changed by Christ (LCBC) church, the Women’s Club, Fair Committee, Sertoma, and Soroptimist International.

With her volunteer kids, she works the New Holland Fair and the Christmas on Main program helping with set-up, signage and decorations.

Stark has run spaghetti dinners and the like for the Lions, and for her 4OurKids group ­ runs a fundraiser every three weeks selling popcorn or ham and cheese sandwiches.

“A good part of the money goes toward the summer school program,” Stark said. “I know how important it is for kids to get a high school education and to go onto college or trade school as appropriate and some need extra summer school help to succeed. The 4OurKids program subsidizes the tuition at the Ephrata, Garden Spot and Cocalico schools for these kids and we have done so for years.”

Stark encourages ‘her kids’ that their volunteer work will help make them good candidates for scholarships from local businesses for post-high school study and some of her past teens have indeed been so honored.

Stark isn’t done with her volunteer work ­ not by a long shot. Her 4OurKids group plans to invest 50 percent of all their fundraising dollars in the new Carol Stark Foundation’s honor so area kids can continue to be helped long after she is gone.

Carol Stark is known and loved by everyone in Ephrata for her energy and hard work, but she smiles, “I want to be remembered for the volunteer work I have done and the mentoring help I have provided to our kids.” And she will!

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