“I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was homeless and you gave me a room; I was shivering and you gave me clothes; I was sick and you stopped to visit; I was in prison and you came to me. … Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36; 40, “The Message”)
LAKELAND – With the holidays around the corner and unemployment figures still high, food banks around Florida and the nation are hoping to draw attention to the ever-pressing needs of the hungry and homeless.
Feeding America, a national nonprofit organization, has designated the month of September as Hunger Action Month and devised a full calendar of activities intended to promote awareness of hunger in the U.S. http://hungeractionmonth.org/ham2012/calendar.aspx?ID=90
Through the month of September, Florida Conference Connection will shine a light on faith-based programs that heed Jesus’ message to feed those in need. Stories will include large congregations reaching out to help smaller ones, organizations that help people pool their resources to make a difference, and churches that come up with innovative ideas like community gardens. In addition, stories will be posted on Twitter and the Conference Facebook page, and a special app will allow fans to donate their Facebook status in support of Hunger Action Month.
Click here to donate your support.
|Feeding America estimates there are more than 3 million Floridians whose food supply is inadequate or uncertain, and about a third are children. More than 2.6 million people in Florida receive government assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Nationally, people receiving assistance average a monthly household income of $731, but in Florida, the average is $608. Children and seniors tend to be the most vulnerable. In 2010, they accounted for about 55 percent of SNAP recipients.|
The Society of St. Andrew, a nonprofit organization with Methodist roots that gleans farm fields after seasonal harvests, is not sponsoring any special events in September because there are no crops to pick this time of year, said Barbara Sayles, director of the society’s Florida branch. However, she encouraged people to sign up to help in October, when harvests begin again, and also to check the society’s website, http://www.endhunger.org/NHAM/index.htm, for other ideas.
Rev. Rick Bennett, interim director of Justice and Outreach Ministries, said this is the perfect time for church leaders and conference associates to start getting ideas and advice, whether a congregation is interesting in lobbying legislators for measures to end hunger, opening a lunchroom in the church fellowship hall during the summer or teaming up with another church or nonprofit to help combat hunger.
For the Florida Conference, stamping out hunger, particularly among children, has long been a priority. At the 2008 Annual Conference, delegates approved joining forces with other organizations in Florida’s Partnership to End Childhood Hunger, which has a 10-point plan to ensure healthy meals to all the state’s children by 2017.
“The goal is audacious,” said Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, director of Connectional Ministries for the Florida Conference. But it also ties in perfectly with church goals.
“It’s essentially Wesleyan to be involved in caring for both body and soul and therefore to be involved in both justice and mercy … paying attention to legislation affecting children and hunger,” she added.
United Methodists have participated in Florida Advocacy Days, an annual opportunity for state residents to bend the ears of legislators who can influence measures that improve life for those in need. Last year, grassroots lobbying efforts led to a transfer of the state’s summer feeding program for children from the Department of Education to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, which many believe improved access to nutritious food for children.
The conference has participated in a pilot project in Orange County to expand the number of summer feeding sites, especially targeting churches in neighborhoods with high needs. Last year, the Partnership blanketed another eight counties with a social media campaign aimed at publicizing the program. It attracted another 3,500 children who consumed about 220,000 meals.
The state website www.summerfoodflorida.org shows nine UMC churches serving as feeding sites in that area.
Fogle-Miller and Rick Bennett, interim director of Justice and Outreach Ministries for the conference, said they would like to see more churches provide volunteers and space to host one of the state’s summer feeding programs.
“It’s funded,” Fogle-Miller said. “It requires people who care and someplace to serve the food.”
Some small congregations partner with other churches to rotate a summer lunch program in tandem with Vacation Bible School, she said.
In addition to promoting the summer feeding program, the conference has smiled favorably on many projects that target hunger and education when awarding Lockmiller grants.
The Lockmiller program, named for benefactor Alice Lockmiller, awards $25,000 a year in grants of $500 to $2,000.
“We gave out money for everything from Vacation Bible School, Pack-a-Sack, weekend or Wednesday meals for families and food pantries,” Bennett recalled of this year’s awards. The deadline for 2013 grants will be in late March or early April. For information, call Bennett at 1-800-282-8011, ext. 504.
For other ideas, the outreach ministry directors in each of the conference’s nine districts are knowledgeable and familiar with the needs and resources of specific communities, Bennett said.
NEXT WEEK: Big and small churches team up to tackle hunger.