Close-Up: United Methodists Joining in Fight Against Hunger
By Ray Waddle
United Methodists are getting on their knees to scour harvest fields for salvageable edible fruits and vegetables - 17 million pounds last year - and turning them over to families who need food.
|Del Ketcham, a Nashville, Tenn.,-based hunger relief advocate with the Society of St. Andrew, believes it's up to the church to "mobilize and execute" sustainability and "kick the spiritual dimension into it." Ketcham is pictured here at Edgehill Community Garden in Nashville. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. |
They are sending hunger activists into far-flung scenarios of war and catastrophe - 100 countries in all - to alleviate suffering in a world where 30,000 people die each day because of hunger. Half are children under 5.
They are sponsoring farm animals for poor families and volunteering in community gardens.
Like never before, the United Methodist Church is building an army against hunger, inspired by biblical values and new, sophisticated methods of food distribution.
Now, though, in a jittery economy, leaders are nervous about a possibly flagging commitment in donations to disaster relief. At the United Methodist Committee on Relief, gifts to the One Great Hour of Sharing campaign look to be down from last year so far. UMCOR, the denomination's worldwide disaster relief arm, relies heavily on donations from One Great Hour of Sharing - about $3 million last year - to meet budget needs.
Others are impatient to intensify the church's ambitions to end hunger permanently.
"If the churches lived their faith better, there wouldn't be hungry people," says Mike Waldmann of the Society of St. Andrew. The group, based in Big Island, Va., is a non-denominational hunger relief organization that United Methodists support in great numbers.
"We waste 96 billion pounds of food before it even reaches grocery stores. We waste more than enough food to feed every hungry American."
|Chickens provided by the United Methodist Committee on Relief scratch in the front yard of a woman's home in the village of Bare, outside Kosovo Mitrovica, Yugoslavia, in this file photograph. A UMNS photo by Mike Stanton-Rich. |
Advocacy is stretching in new directions, testing strategies to get at the roots of hunger. Activists are teaching farming techniques, health care and job training, empowering people to pull themselves out of poverty and malnutrition through sustainable agriculture and livelihoods.
In recent years, programs have emerged to cultivate unused land and salvage wasted crops and put the food in the hands of folks in need.
One result: A dramatic increase in opportunities for church voluntarism.
"There's a great revolution going on: We are engaging in hands-on missions as never before," says David McAllister-Wilson, president of United Methodist-related Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.
One way United Methodists are volunteering is through the Society of St. Andrew. The group organizes volunteers to glean farmers' fields for fresh produce that is left behind during harvest. Volunteers collected 17 million pounds of edible food that way last year, donating it to food banks and soup kitchens.
|Terrell Starr, a global justice volunteer with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, works in the garden at an orphanage in northern Russia. The 21-year-old student from Detroit spent two months working with children and youth at the orphanage. A UMNS photo courtesy of Terrell Starr.|
A second program, the Potato Project, swoops in dramatically on short notice to pick up vast amounts of rejected but edible food from trucks - typically 45,000-pound loads - and distribute it to soup kitchens, Native American reservations, hunger agencies and churches. St. Andrew distributes about 20 million pounds of food that way each year.
The Society's goals are to place a hunger relief advocate in every United Methodist annual conference in the United States through the Commission on United Methodist Men, and to mobilize similar potato drives and gleanings. Hunger relief advocates are at work in about 20, or nearly a third, of the conferences now.
United Methodists are also volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and supporting organizations like Stop Hunger Now, Heifer International and Bread for the World.
Last year, an unusual Hunger Summit met in Washington, organized to build momentum for eradicating hunger itself. The Society of St. Andrew, Wesley Theological Seminary and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the denomination's social action and advocacy agency, sponsored the event. Topics ranged from promoting sustainable farming to enlisting church youth to work in poor neighborhoods.
|Birch Coston picks peas for the hungry during a gleaning project held at a farm near Lafayette, Ind. Coston, a member of Christ United Methodist Church in Lafayette, was one of about 30 men who picked produce July 13, 2001, at Earthcraft Farm near Lafayette before the 8th International UMMen Congress in West Lafayette. A UMNS photo by Tim Tanton.|
Sustainability covers various economic strategies to make farming feasible and help impoverished communities become self-sufficient.
UMCOR emphasizes sustainability as one of an array of approaches to relief work. A visit to the Web sitehttp://gbgm-umc.org/umcor suggests the vast scale of needs and UMCOR's responses.
"Our work can be seen as an hourglass," says the Rev. Paul Dirdak, UMCOR executive director. "There are two large groups - those who give generously and those who are motivated to organize the self-help of a local community, with our assistance. UMCOR exists at the pinch point of that hourglass to coordinate the work between the two groups."
Waddle, former religion editor at The Tennessean newspaper, is a writer and lecturer in Nashville, Tenn.
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