Changing the World by Feeding the Hungry

Susan and Autumn Norkowski cook food harvested from the community garden for a meal served andprepared to feed folks in need. A web-only photo courtesy of Central United Methodist Church.
Susan and Autumn Norkowski cook food harvested from the community garden
for a meal served and prepared to feed folks in need.
A web-only photo courtesy of Central United Methodist Church.

By Barbara Dunlap-Berg*

May 13, 2013 | NASHVILLE, TENN. (UMNS)

In a world where one in eight people goes to bed hungry every day, United Methodists across the connection are trying to make a difference.

For many congregations, the upcoming Change the World weekend, May 18-19, is a perfect time to address hunger. And, the plans of no two churches are exactly alike.

Community gardens

An increasingly popular Change the World ministry for local churches is the community garden.

The 1,000-member Central United Methodist Church, Traverse City, Mich., will focus on Our Neighbor’s Garden. Volunteers from neighboring Christ United Methodist Church will join Central in planting, harvesting and distributing produce.

“As the largest United Methodist church in our community,” said the Rev. Chris Lane, associate pastor at Central, “we feel it is our responsibility to reach beyond our doors in Christian mission. Only by involving everyone in the community can we make maximum impact.

“Hunger is a serious problem, and it knows no boundaries. Anyone at any time can have the need for a hot meal or enough food just to put dinner on the table. Our goal is to help the real people in our community who are hungry every day.”

Gardening lessons for all ages are on the agenda for Ely United Methodist Church in Nevada.

“We will have nutrition information, cooking classes and canning/preserving instruction,” said Pastor Suzanne Calhoun. Anyone in the community can rent a garden plot for nothing or up to $25 to help cover the cost of water. All excess produce is sold at the local farmer’s market. The church also works with a senior nutrition program to accept coupons to purchase produce.

“We want this event to reach far beyond our congregation and encourage people to think about options in our area for better family nutrition practices,” Calhoun said. “This is a small town, and word of mouth is big here. The more people we reach, the further the word will spread about help in the community for hunger issues.

“I have found that people don’t have the basic cooking skills to boil beans at high elevation or use flour to make noodles or biscuits. For families lacking these skills, food is very expensive.”

In the West Ohio Annual (regional) Conference, a book — “The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside your Door” by Dave Runyon — inspired members of Oakland United Methodist Church to start a community garden.

Howard Eblin, a certified lay servant for the Foothills District, donated a pyramid (terraced) garden, and others will contribute landscape lumber filled with soil for raised-bed gardens.

In this Change the World project, Eblin said, “we hope to involve members and non-members, which include our neighbors of all ages.”

Volunteers, ages 3 through 90, from the 175-member White Chapel United Methodist Church, New Wilmington, Pa., will gather at Boaz Field. A cooperative ministry of the Mercer Area United Methodist Cluster, Boaz Field provides fresh produce to the Mercer and Lawrence county food ministries.

This is the congregation’s first Change the World involvement but the fifth year for the project, said the Rev. Ricky D. Nelson. “To date, this project has spawned four to six similar projects” in the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.

“We are a rural congregation with a 10-acre campus,” Nelson continued,“When asking what gifts we have to serve our surrounding community,‘the field’ was the answer. God has called us to be involved and feed the hungry. Last year we donated over 7,000 pounds of fresh produce to food ministries in the area.”

CROP Hunger Walk

The congregation of Lake Washington United Methodist Church, Kirkland, Wash., believes in ending hunger one step at a time. One of their many service options on Change the World weekend is a CROP Hunger Walk. These communitywide events are sponsored by the interfaith Church World Service and organized by local volunteers to end hunger.

“This is a combination of service projects and a hunger awareness walk,” said the Rev. Kelly S.Dahlman-Oeth, “that raises funds to fight hunger in our community and around the world. Everyone is encouraged to participate as a walker, a worker or a sponsor.”

Other participants will sort food at an area food bank.

“Food insecurity,” Dahlman-Oeth said, “is often a hidden problem in a suburban area such as Kirkland. This community is perceived as being well off, and that is somewhat true. However, our local food bank serves over 1,100 households each month. This is only a fraction of the people that are eligible and are dealing with food insecurity. The more people in our community are educated about hunger and how it is affecting their neighbors, the more relevance the problem has and the more energy they will put into changing it.”

Serving meals, packing food

Members and friends of Bethel United Methodist Church, Elysian Fields, Texas, got an early start with their April 13 Change the World event — serving breakfast at the Newgate Mission in Longview, about 40 miles away.

“Newgate serves the homeless, unemployed and underemployed in the area,” said the Rev. Harold M. Coburn. “There is no other place in Longview for them to get breakfast on the weekend. We fed about 85 men, women and children.” About 25 volunteers — from age 7 to mid-80s — prepared and served the food.

This was Bethel’s third year of participating in Change the World.“We are fortunate that there is not a great need in our immediate community for food,” Coburn said,“but we do recognize the need in surrounding areas. And people long for more than physical food, he pointed out.

“People are hungry for the opportunity to serve others. Christ did not limit service to a certain few, so we open our doors and give others the opportunity to be served by serving.”

In Newport, Va., volunteers from the 140-member Newport-Mount Olivet United Methodist Church will assemble summer food boxes for students at Eastern Elementary/Middle School who receive assistance through the Newport Cares Backpack Program. Newport Cares provides six meals to 30 students each weekend during the school year.
“School breakfast and lunch,” noted the Rev. Morris V. Fleischer,“may be the only regular meals to which some of these students have access. We are excited to expand the Newport Cares ministry to help hungry students over the summer months.”

Food collection began on Easter Sunday, when a “Change the World tree” was placed in the church narthex. Since then, church and community members have adopted flowers on the tree and purchased specific food items listed on each blossom.

The assembled food boxes will be dedicated during worship as part of the congregation’s Pentecost celebration.

A three-pronged effort is on the docket for the 450-member Pinehurst United Methodist Church in North Carolina. Volunteers will make mesh bags for the Society of St. Andrew and pack food for Feed the Hunger and for the Sandhills Branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

“We hope to involve non-members,” said Ann Morse, missions team chair, “in hopes of making new disciples of Jesus Christ.” Hunger is the mission focus of the Fairway District of the North Carolina Annual Conference.

Food drives

Two United Methodist congregations in California — Trinity, Los Osos, and Estero Bay, Morro Bay — are encouraging church members and the community to contribute a jar of peanut butter, two additional food items for the food pantry and a $3 or more contribution to a global missions project.

“Hunger is a significant issue for families and homeless persons in our community,” said the Rev. Richard Bolin of Trinity Church. “We support the efforts of the San Luis Obispo County Food Bank.” In 2012, the church distributed 273 food boxes serving 684 people. The annual event, he said, “helps sustain a year-around ministry to the hungry.”

June 1 is the date for the Strawberry Festival at Severn United Methodist Church in Maryland. The event supports the interdenominational Christian Assistance Program food pantry, which is in the church basement.

The Rev. Wendy van Vliet says the CAP program serves about 150 families a month. “This is an increase over previous years,” she said,“and reflects the economic struggles of our neighbors.

“Admission is free but a donation of nonperishable food will earn you a free bottle of water to wash down our delicious pit-beef, barbecue chicken or all-beef hotdogs,” van Vliet added. “Our famous strawberries, ice cream and cake will be for sale, too.”

Participants can tour the food pantry and get information about the fight against hunger. A recipe contest will engage and inform the community further about the pantry.

“This is a bold new step for the church to … to support a community program that affects the whole neighborhood,” van Vliet said.

Change the World weekend is going to the dogs at Hartsville United Methodist Church in Tennessee.

“We are doing a dog-food drive for the local animal shelter,” said Angie Blackwell, volunteer youth minister. “Last year, we went to the local animal shelter and cleaned the shelter, washed the dogs and brought dog food and supplies.” The agency, which receives no county funds, depends on individual donations.

Blackwell said hunger is a serious problem for people in her community, but the youth chose the animal shelter. “Individuals with needs can go to our local help center for food; the dogs have nowhere to go.”

A salad of activities

Six United Methodist congregations in the Kalamazoo, Mich., area — along with the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo — will collaborate on a variety of hunger-fighting endeavors.

Participants will work at the local Loaves and Fishes food pantry distribution warehouse, the Growing Community Garden at Sunnyside United Methodist Church, the Trybal Revival Gardens and the Common Ground resource shed. They also will develop new community gardens in the Eastside neighborhood and at the Wesley Foundation and serve breakfast and lunch at Ministry with Community, a drop-in center that provides food for local low-income and homeless residents.

“We anticipate more than 200 volunteers with at least half including community members not otherwise connected to our participating congregations,” said the Rev. Cara Weiler, a deacon at Sunnyside United Methodist Church.“We currently have 35 high school students (in the Outward Bound Program) planning to work in a community garden and 40 from Western Michigan University serving in eight of our 17 project locations.

“Our congregation sees the impact of hunger all around us while our neighborhood houses mostly low-income families that are food insecure,” she added.

“Food is one of the common denominators for humanity, and while feeding the hungry serves a basic need, sharing food also gives us the opportunity to sit at table together, make connections and begin building relationships. Food invites us to recognize our commonalities and bridge differences among individuals that might not otherwise ever cross paths.”

Prepare to Change the World

On May 18-19, United Methodists around the globe will unite in service with their local communities for the fourth annual Change the World weekend. People in more than 1,500 locations internationally observed Change the World in 2012.

United Methodist Communications has created several free planning resources including sermon series and ideas for service projects. To locate an event in your area, go to Join the Change the World conversation online on Facebook, or on Twitter and Instagram using #changetheworld and #rethinkchurch.

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or

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