A photo of the new Nativity set purchased with funds donated from the community has arrived in time for the holidays. Public invited to event made possible through successful fundraiser.
The story of the Nativity that’s displayed at the Pickens Courthouse each Christmas is long and convoluted, with ownership and responsibility of the set changing hands over the years. The Nativity’s story came to a head in 2019 when it was noticeably missing from the lawn during the annual tree lighting ceremony. Members of the community went to social media with complaints.
But after a year-long fundraiser organized by a private citizen a new Nativity has been purchased and is scheduled to be set up at a public event this Saturday.
Local business owner Marla Renner spearheaded the fundraising effort, which has collected over $5,000 since last December. The set was delivered to Jasper on Tuesday, Nov. 24.
“When I kept seeing everyone commenting that there was not a Nativity on the courthouse lawn for Christmas 2019, and that someone needed to do something about it, I just waited at first,” Renner said. “Then on December 12, 2019 I posted on Facebook that I was heading to Community Bank of Pickens County to open an account, ‘Jasper GA Nativity,’ and that I was starting a PayPal with the same name. I included an image of a Nativity with a goal of raising $5,000.”
Here’s a quick recap of the Nativity’s history: The Pickens County government originally had responsibility for the set but eventually handed it over to the Jasper Merchants’ Association after they requested to take charge. The association attempted to maintain the aging display, which dated from the early 1970s, but it was in such bad shape they put out a call for help around 2014 to replace it. A local veterans group, T.A.P.S., stepped up and offered to loan their own set to the community. The group took care of installation and upkeep for a few years, including construction of the wooden stable, but they eventually disbanded and the county was left without a Nativity. The old set was in too poor condition to be displayed.
The fundraiser for a new set started late last year and Renner said she didn’t expect it would be complete in time for that Christmas. Community Bank of Pickens County loaned a two-dimensional silhouette Nativity to be displayed for the remainder of the 2019 holiday season.
By December 31, 2019, Renner said $2,095 had been raised. During the first three months of 2020, just over $550 was raised. Donations slacked off until this October when booth vendors who set up at Rooster’s Market - Renner’s business off Highway 515 - donated raffle baskets for the fundraiser.
“At that time, a heavy social media campaign restarted as well,” Renner said. “By November 17th, the entire amount for the nativity had been raised, as well as money being donated for the three sets of solar lights for the set. I simply cannot thank everyone that financially supported this fundraiser. I would also like to thank the Rooster’s Market vendor family for their generous donations for the raffle baskets. I pray that the community both appreciates and enjoys this for many years to come. I would also like to thank William Latimer for committing to storing the set each year.”
Renner will leave the account open for donations to help pay for the content and vandalism insurance yearly, as well as the replacement of the hay needed each year for display.
The original price set was $6,995, but the purchase price ended up being $4,995 – no tax or shipping – because it went on sale. The Renner family has donated the materials and construction of the manger. The set selected was based on durability and longevity so it will not need to be replaced for many years, Renner said.
Community members are welcome to join in the Nativity set up process on Saturday, Nov. 28, weather permitting, at the Pickens County Courthouse. The Nativity will be set up at 2 p.m. A lighting ceremony, prayers, and carols singing will be at 5 p.m. The public is invited to set up and for the lighting ceremony.