by Lisa McIntosh

A series of ‘God-incidences’ has turned a Lutheran farming family’s surplus hay paddock and 30,000 sunflower seeds into a golden field of hope for children with congenital heart disease in South Australia.

That’s the belief of Freeling farmers Sherinne and Gavin Schuster – along with their sons Leighton, Harrison and Corbin and their families – whose unconventional crop of sunflowers recently yielded more than $14,000 for the HeartKids SA charity.

And, as the not-for-profit’s corporate sponsorship doubles donations during February, due to the 14th being International Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day or Sweetheart Day aka Valentine’s Day, the money raised will grow to more than $25,000 from an initial donation of $12,644.

The family property west of the Barossa Valley hosts a barn that the family – members of Light Lutheran congregation – hires out for functions. So, with the idea of a picturesque photographic backdrop in mind, the Schusters planted a hectare of sunflowers last November in a paddock usually used for hay.

It was something they’d thought of doing for some years but the 2021-2022 summer was the first in recent times promising climatic conditions conducive to growing sunflowers. When the speculative planting produced spectacular results in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day, Corbin had an idea – why not invite people to come along and pick a sunflower for a gold coin donation to help others?

The Schusters decided any money raised would go to HeartKids as they knew two people through family and local connections who had lost children or grandchildren to congenital or childhood-acquired heart disease.

Sherinne thought they might raise a few hundred dollars after Corbin posted the ‘sundraiser’ on Facebook and an artist friend-of-a-friend painted a hay bale sign advertising it. About 50 cars arrived within two hours of the post and, within a week, more than $12,000 had been raised as individuals, couples, families and even busloads of people and HeartKids beneficiaries came to enjoy the beautiful sight and pick a single stem or a bunch.

‘Some people picked one, some people picked bunches, some people picked eight and gave me $50’, Sherinne says. Soon the Schusters, their function centre and the sunflowers were highlighted by a variety of media outlets – something Sherinne and Gavin felt a little uncomfortable about, as the fundraiser was motivated by their desire to help others, spurred by their Christian faith.

‘I feel a bit embarrassed because it’s not meant to be about us’, Sherinne says. ‘That’s not what it’s about. I’m very much a believer in helping other people and we’ve had an opportunity to do it. There are always bad things around and if you focus on the bad, that’s all you’ll see. But if you focus on the good, you’ll see a lot more good. I’m a firm believer in that.’

However, when a HeartKids representative told the Schusters how positive the publicity had been for their cause, it made Sherinne very happy. ‘I thought, okay I’ll put up with the embarrassment of being on telly because it’s doing some good’, she says.

Along with donations being doubled and the sunflower currently being used around the world to show support for the people of Ukraine, Sherinne and Gavin say they’ve seen many ‘God-incidences’ through this experience.

‘[One day] a lady was picking a whole heap of flowers and I said, “Have you got a celebration or something?” and she said, “No, I’m taking them to my daughter-in-law who is Ukrainian, who lives in Adelaide”’, Gavin says. ‘“Their national emblem is the sunflower, and her parents are in Ukraine at this time”.

‘It’s a God-incidence – we have a lot of those.’

‘They’re all around if you look for them’, Sherinne adds. ‘It’s amazing. It’s nothing we ever planned. The Lord is good. Everything we did just got better and better [because of God’s hand in it] and we’re just so thankful.’

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