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Doors hinged to family safety

A poster depicting 20 attractive entrances _ "The Doors of St. Petersburg" _ may help make more homes safe for families around town.

The full-color poster, 12{ by 18 inches, is bordered with the words, "Working to make every home a safe place." It is being sold for a suggested donation of $10 at the offices of Community Action Stops Abuse, formerly the Center Against Spouse Abuse, at 1011 First Ave. N. The office is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

If a safe, secure home is a blessing, so is the story of how the poster came to be.

Last spring at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, located in the Snell Isle neighborhood, the congregation started a project called the Matthew Assignment. It drew its name from the biblical story in Matthew 25:14-30, about a landowner who gave his servants money before he left on a trip. Upon his return, the servants reported what they had done with the money and how they had invested it to make it grow.

The project was suggested by parishioner Allison Stiles Marshall, who leads adult education and stewardship efforts at the church and had read a book about a similar project. The church's rector, the Very Rev. C. Christopher Thompson, one Sunday offered his congregation the challenge. He placed $100 in 30 envelopes _ a total of $3,000 _ and asked members of the congregation to step forward and take an envelope "of God's money, not yours, and do something with it: What God would place upon your heart to do."

"It was an incredible opportunity within the congregation to take God's money outside the doors of the congregation," Thompson said.

He was nervous that no one would step forward, but 38 people immediately lined up to take the envelopes. "The last eight people, we had no money for them," Thompson said. But after the service two people pledged a total of another $1,000.

The congregation plans to compile a booklet describing what happened to each of those $100 bills. One person underwrote a Fourth of July picnic for the YWCA. Another collected books for underprivileged children. A third gave a party for a family with a special-needs child and recruited the partygoers to help the family by signing up to provide rides, meals, day care and other services the family needed. Others helped Beacon House, Resurrection House and the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.

The most public example, Thompson said, was a presentation by the "Jesus Painter," an Orlando artist named Mike Lewis who executes large-scale portraits of Jesus in as little as five minutes. Callie Cooper, 17, put on a spaghetti supper followed by a presentation by Lewis and raised $3,300 for CASA. (An additional $300 raised that night was handed out in $100 increments to people from three other churches to start a Matthew Assignment with their congregations.)

But meanwhile, there were the doors of St. Petersburg.

Peggy Weniger instantly stepped forward that first Sunday to take an envelope, without knowing what she might do with it. It wasn't until a few months later, when participants in the project were asked to give progress reports on what they were doing with their money, that she suddenly made up her mind: the doors.

She had seen posters of the doors of Charleston and other cities and decided to create a poster of the doors of St. Petersburg. As a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker at its office on Fourth Street N, she sees a lot of homes around town. Equipped with a digital camera, "whenever I saw a door I liked, I shot it, whatever grabbed my attention."

At any home she went to, Weniger said, "I knocked on the door to ask permission." But no one was home at some houses, so those owners may not know until they see the poster that their door is included. (Some people thought she was a property appraiser and were worried she was going to increase their appraisal and their taxes.)

She worked with printers she had dealt with before, who were happy to help, she said. At first she thought she'd have to hire a professional photographer, but learned that her own photographs would be fine. "Everywhere I turned, I heard yes, yes, yes," she said.

Weniger and her husband, Charles Weniger of Weniger Financial, have underwritten the cost of the first 2,000 copies, a total of about $700, so all proceeds will go to CASA. She chose that charity because she had worked with it before "and know they meet a need in our area" and have been hurt by the poor economy.

"I'm not a real religious, "Oh, God, talk to me' kind of person," Weniger said, "but everything fell into place the way it was supposed to."

She still has her original $100 from the Matthew Assignment. She plans to turn it back to the church "for someone else to use again."