Donuts + Discussion + the Incarnation

They were starting from scratch, so they started with donuts.

Dozens of donuts. And one existential question.

In the fall of 2021, Katie Staronka and Dan Garrison Edwards lugged a folding table, a small whiteboard, and three dozen donuts across the campus of West Chester University, a state school near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They set up their display announcing their affiliation with the CCO and the Church of the Good Samaritan on the sidewalk in front of the library. Then they opened the donut boxes and wrote a question on the board: Will the human race go extinct? Yes or no?

And they waited.

“Honestly, we thought it would fail,” Katie admits. “We thought no one would talk to us.”

The idea was simple—students could choose to vote “yes” or “no” on the question, take a donut, or keep on walking. If a student wanted to talk to them, Dan and Katie would listen and ask follow-up questions, but they wouldn’t give their opinion unless asked.

“Once people see that we’re from a church, they have certain assumptions about us,” Dan explains. “So it was important to show that our desire to know them was genuine, not transactional.”

At first, some students still reacted with suspicion. “What do I have to do for this donut?” Or, “What do you get out of this? Why are you here?” But when the students realized that they were really free to engage—or not engage—as they wished, the donuts disappeared.

The next week, Katie and Dan returned to the same spot at the same time with more donuts and a new question. Then they did it again the next week, and the next, until some students began to stop by regularly. Soon they needed four dozen donuts, then five, and now six.

“Dan and I are in awe of what the Lord does each week when we simply say ‘yes’ to showing up,” Katie says. “We are building real relationships with these students that allow us to speak into where they are—and discuss a not-so-simple yes-or-no question.”

Dan notes that many of their regulars don’t go to church and have no desire to, but they still come every week, often standing around talking for a half hour or more.

Students say things like, “You’re the first nice Christians I’ve met,’” and “You have no idea how much this means to us.”

And this fall, Dan and Katie have noticed a new phenomenon—more and more, students are asking them how they would answer the question.

“The more we’ve been a consistent presence, the more curiosity there is,” Dan says. “Students are still trying to figure out why we’re there. It’s weird to many of them, but weird in a way that they don’t know how to be angry about!”

Dan and Katie don’t have all the answers, but they believe that the Holy Spirit is living and active in these conversations. Some responses have developed over time. For example, when students ask, “Why are you here?” Dan now says something like this:

“As a Christian, I believe that God became human—in what we call the incarnation—to be present with humanity. And because of that, we want to come here and be present in one small way, one day a week, with a free donut.”

And their presence matters to students. Katie recently received a text from a student who was attending a university fundraiser.

“They just asked about our favorite on-campus activities,” the student texted. “Someone  instantly replied, ‘Donut Thursdays’!”


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