Food for the soul: Church bags 120,000 meals for hungry

The Fresno BeeOctober 25, 2013 

A Methodist church in Clovis celebrated its 120th anniversary over two days last weekend, capped by an ambitious project to provide bagged food for the hungry.

Founded in 1893, Memorial United Methodist Church organized an effort Sunday to package ingredients for 120,000 meals — 1,000 for every year that the church has existed — for a Stop Hunger Now project.

Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief organization that coordinates the distribution of food and other life-saving aid worldwide, presents a meal-packaging system through which participants package high-protein, dehydrated meals for use in crisis situations.

Stop Hunger Now reports more than 868 million people worldwide do not have enough to eat, and 25,000 people die each day from hunger-related causes — more than 1,000 per hour or 17 every minute. October is World Hunger Action Month. World Food Day was Oct. 16.

Memorial United Methodist Church's celebrations included a tri-tip barbecue lunch Oct. 19 at Academy Church, where it has roots. The next day, special services were held at Memorial United Methodist Church, followed by a chicken lunch.

Then, many church members rolled up their sleeves for the Stop Hunger Now project.

The church recruited nearly 350 people to divide into three shifts — each for two hours — to bag the ingredients. Memorial United Methodist Church has about 290 members — and about 140 signed up. Three other local churches helped as well as five Boy Scout troops, a jiu-jitsu academy and youths seeking community service hours for school requirements.

Memorial United Methodist Church ended up surpassing its goal, bagging 121,422 meals.

Chris Romero, Northern California program manager for Stop Hunger Now, said the Clovis effort was the most reached by any project in Northern California and ranked among the 10 largest campaigns in the United States in October.

"It's rare any group is going to do 120,000," he said. "This is way up and beyond."

Not surprising, however, to Memorial United Methodist Church members.

In the early 1900s, church records show that the church's Women's Society helped a family that had its cabin and a sewing machine repossessed. Church members also tended to the farms of Japanese-American members who were relocated during World War II.

Earlier this year, Memorial United Methodist Church sent about a dozen people to Haiti on a missions project, where they learned the importance of schools providing meals for children — and educating them, as well as their parents, about working toward ending world hunger.

In May, the church organized a Stop Hunger Now effort that bagged 10,000 meals.

"This has always been a caring congregation," said Diane Zastovnik, who has worshipped at the church for 43 years. "This (celebration) is not about us. We're doing this for others. This is why we're here."

During the packaging, the church's fellowship hall hummed with activity.

Workers filled bags with a variety of items: a vitamin pack containing 21 vitamins and minerals that are designed for people who are malnourished; a heaping scoop of dehydrated soy flakes for protein; and a heaping scoop of dehydrated vegetables. Each bag was weighed, expected to reach 389 to 394 grams.

If it wasn't enough, rice was added. After bags were cinched in heat-sealers, "runners" took them to stations to be boxed.

On Sunday, you could hear the steady sound of ingredients being poured into plastic bags, background music and the pounding of a gong declaring each time 4,000 meals had been achieved.

Participants said they were thinking about others — and just wanted to help.

Sue DeFranco, the church's choir leader, worked with about 12 choir members at a station. Earlier, they had sung at the celebration services.

"Our choir loves to sing — to praise God," she said. "But we don't want to stop there. It's important to take the love of God into the world. To live out our beliefs in this way is awesome."

Judith Cross, 77, a church member since 1963, gave extra effort. She spent several days on a United Methodist Committee On Relief effort in Salt Lake City, then drove home with others on Oct. 19. The next day, she bagged meals with others.

"Sure, I'm tired," she said. "But I feel the need to help."

Not only did Memorial United Methodist Church spearhead the effort, it also raised funds to pay for the ingredients. Each meal costs about 25 cents. The church has raised about $18,000 — and still needs to collect $12,000 more to complete the project. To help, visit the church's website at mem-umc.org.

The church's pastor, the Rev. Janette Saavedra, who went on the mission trip to Haiti, says it is important for people to help others.

"Sometimes, we see people hurting in our world and we feel helpless to make a difference," she said. "Sunday's 120,000 meal-packaging event empowers us to make a real and positive difference in our world, and provides the blessings of nourishment and hope for those in greatest need around the globe.

"It is exactly the type of thing Jesus meant when he said, 'I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.' "

 

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6304 or rorozco@fresnobee.com.

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