Fighting hunger across the world is a challenge that we continue to chip away at. In 2006, the Episcopal Church pledged support of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, and the first one of those goals was to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. That was 10 years ago, and worldwide hunger hasn’t been eradicated. But for a solid 10 years, from the top down to the bottom up, people in The Episcopal Church have been working together toward that goal.
Here, at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, we’ve had ongoing food collections to meet local hunger needs from about the time the church sprang up on pastureland. We’ve had a long-standing commitment here to relieving hunger.
This past year, with the stewardship theme of “Reach out,” inspiring us to reach further, we have tried some new things, some bigger things, to reach farther and impact more people. That’s what “reach out” has been about. So, why not act locally to reach globally? Thus we partnered with Stop Hunger Now, and their local Grand Prairie office representative made it easy for us to see what we can do together to make a difference in something our church is passionate about.
Meal packing event on September 24, 2016
We only needed 60 people, but over 100 showed up to help – talk about abundance! We worked together in assembly-line fashion to pack 10,365 meals. Each meal packet contains rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a flavoring/vitamin mix to feed six people. One station filled bags, another weighed them, another sealed them, another packed and sealed them in cases. People moved tubs of products between the stations. We packed 36 plastic packets in each box; that’s 216 meals. We were 3 packets short of filling 48 boxes when we ran out of bags.
The many hands of adults, teens and kids made the work easy and fast, and we finished in 70 minutes. Outreach Committee member Becky Snell said, “Everyone came with their hearts open and hands ready to serve. It was a great turnout, and a great event. Thank you to all our volunteers!” Our oldest volunteer, age 94, worked to seal the plastic meal pouches. Our youngest, age 4, wouldn’t be left behind while his older siblings packed cartons; he carried and lifted food, too.
Where will these meals go?
Stop Hunger Now cannot tell us where our meals will go to feed hungry people; the most likely location is they will stay in the Americas, and probably go south. Meals packed near the coast most often go into shipping containers to other parts of the world. Each cardboard carton has a label that tells where and when it was packed, and shows that the food we packed is shelf-stable for 2 years.
“Reach out” means collaboration, too
Part of our “Reach out” call was to invite people and groups from other churches in our diocese to get involved. Our hope has been that working together on a big event like this would give us experience in working together, and that it would inspire Episcopal churches to network and to work together more faithfully and fruitfully in hands-on ways in our metropolitan area. Sixteen volunteers from St. Elisabeth’s and Christ the King Episcopal Church in Fort Worth came to help, and the Rev. Sandra Michels presented a check from their church to contribute to the cost this hunger-fighting event.
One St. Elisabeth’s and Christ the King volunteer shared, “My sister’s church did this. I figured I could work with my church and your church and we could do this, too.” God’s people working together on God’s purposes has so much promise! The Rev. Edwin Barnett of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Fort Worth has seen similar events in other parts of the country. He shared that it was good that people and churches can do this important work in the Fort Worth area, too.
One member of the Outreach Committee said after working all morning, “Our event is over, and we’ve cleaned up, and it’s after noon. I’m feeling quite a bit hungry. That’s how someone who would be eating a meal like we just packed would feel. I’m so glad we helped. I’ll enjoy my food more now.”
What fighting hunger on a large scale looks like
It’s hard for us to visualize extreme hunger, but we saw what it looked like to fight it. The 29 cents worth of ingredients we packed in each bag will feed a nutritious, filling meal to six people at a home or school or orphanage or crisis relief center. The 48 boxes we packed and stacked on pallets in the back of a delivery truck showed us what over 10,000 simple meals look like.
Even our young kids understood this program. Kids know that mealtime is special at home and at school. We encouraged children to give coins and bills in the collection jar in our church, and we watched them purposefully drop coins in, with their hearts bursting, wanting to help, and understanding how they could. Many of our preschool kids at St. Martin’s Episcopal School can count out 29 cents in coins! Young kids can understand that their coins can cover the cost of a small packet of food that feeds 6 people a meal, and they see that they can help with that small amount of money.
And now that our event is past, our kids know the “feel” of helping fight hunger. Some hefted heavy bags of rice and soy to fill containers at stations. Some held a small plastic bag that feeds six. Some moved dozens of those small meal bags to be weighed and sealed. Kids who counted and packed cartons know the weight of that single, small bag in their hand when they pick it up. Some hefted a carton with 36 pouches that contains 216 meals. Some pushed a dolly to load cartons onto a pallet.
One family with three generations came to work together. Our oldest volunteer, age 94, worked to seal the plastic meal pouches. Our youngest, age 4, wouldn’t be left behind while his older siblings packed cartons; he carried and lifted food, too.
We all looked around the room and understood that there is no way to do this sort of activity without each other, and we understood that every little bit that we each did for 70 minutes mattered.
It’s not all about the money. It’s not all about the food. It’s not all about how many people. Our youth minister Corrie Cabes often challenges us, “How will doing an activity change us? If it doesn’t change us, why are we doing it? ” What this event has done is give our hearts a shift. That’s a shift out of “me, me, me” to that outward, action-oriented thing God wants, to embrace and work to heal a hurting world. Spirituality that we have from worship or study without action is fruitless. God wants us to be fruitful.
There’s a shift afoot here, too, with the opportunities and energy that intergenerational ministry brings. In most of our adult lifetimes so far, church has had separate, stratified, parceled-out ministries and programs for children, teens, adults, men, women, and so forth. But what we’re experiencing in intergenerational ministry – where young people experience that they don’t have to grow up to do some Jesus work, and older people don’t miss out on the fun – is there’s a role for everyone, and flexibility allows amazing things to happen. We see young people stepping into leadership roles, and older people letting it happen, and we’re amazed at the transformation. That’s likely what the church of our future looks like. It’s a church with no barriers, with room for everyone, without a super-defined hierarchy and rigid roles, and with people who can enjoy community without those things. It has leadership grown from the ground up through transformed hearts and hands busy in God’s purposes.
We’re learning to live and practice this type of purposeful, flexible community at St. Martin’s. Come and be a part of it.
See photos of this event on Facebook; tag yourself and share.
Flip through the slideshow below or view photos on Flickr.