Paying it forward: St. Peter Claver Christmas raffle winner donates car back to church

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald

When Gwen Carter heard her name – or at least, her initials, “G.C.” – she froze for a second and thought she must have been hearing things.

A long-time parishioner at St. Peter Claver Church, Carter was holding her 30 or so raffle tickets in the parish’s capital campaign fundraiser when a youngster pulled a stub from a revolving drum filled with about 3,000 potential winners.

Each stub was good for a chance at winning a 2019 Honda CRV, valued at about $28,000, from Premier Honda in New Orleans East.

Finally, it sank in. Carter had won the grand prize.

“When he pulled my name out, I was speechless,” Carter said.

Seconds later, it was the congregation who grew speechless.

Carter handed over the keys to the SUV she had just won to the parish, which was using the raffle to raise money to repair the church roof and other needed projects.

“It didn’t take me but a second,” said Carter, who lost her husband, Ken, a former Orleans Parish assessor, in August at the age of 74. “My husband always said, ‘Pay it forward,’ so that’s what I did. We have our blessings. I was a little selfish, too. I thought maybe I could get some more points from God so I can see my husband when I get to heaven. This is what we were called to do.”

“It was such a spirit of giving,” said Father John Asare-Dankwah, the St. Peter Claver pastor.

Coping with her grief

Carter was married for 53 years to her husband, and “we went to church together every Sunday for 53 years.” 

She is still trying to cope with the loss of her beloved spouse, and it has become more difficult during the Christmas season.

“The only time I can control my crying is when I’m in church,” Gwen said. “Father Asare said he’s going to have to say a separate Mass for me. We’re a poor parish. We have a beautiful church, but we’ve got some leaks in the roof and some of the pieces of ceiling have been falling down. That’s why Father went to the car dealership and coerced them into giving him the car, I guess, for cost. The raffle was going on for several months.”

Father Asare said the parish likely would return the new car and try to arrange for a credit on another raffle next Christmas. The car raffle raised about $40,000, part of a $100,000 fundraising goal to repair the church roof and a youth building.

Carter said she is working through her grief with the help of family and friends.

“I’m fortunate that I wake up every morning and am so blessed in so many ways,” Carter said. “God’s grace and mercy and the angels in heaven are looking after me. Friends, family and strangers have looked after me. We all have our needs, and God knows our needs. This raffle was to help keep the church from falling apart. I’ll forget one of Ken’s sayings: ‘Always pay it forward when you can.’”

Father Asare-Dankwah said Jana Martin, who won the second prize – a $1,000 VISA gift card – also donated her  winnings back to the parish.

“To God be the glory. Amen,” he said.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at

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