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Florida United Methodists take next steps to end childhood hunger

Florida United Methodists take next steps to end childhood hunger

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida United Methodists take next steps to end childhood hunger

May 22, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0856}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

Lynette Fields doesn’t understand why children still go hungry when they live in a state that produces food year-round.

Lynette Fields adds one of her top social concerns to a list developed by participants at the “Shaping a Common Social Witness” Conference Table Jan. 27, 2007. Photo by Tita Parham. Photo #08-0859.

She hopes that in 10 years The United Methodist Church in Florida will be able to look back and say it was able to end childhood hunger.

“What better organization than The United Methodist Church, that is located in every corner of this state, to be hands-on involved with eradicating childhood hunger?” said Fields, executive director of Servant Ministry at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando. “Every rural, suburban and urban church can contribute something to make life better for a child.”

Fields is Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker’s appointee to the Core Advisory Group for the Partnership To End Childhood Hunger, a coalition of more than 50 organizations around the state whose shared goal is to make Florida the first state in the nation to end childhood hunger. A core advisory group comprising a broad sector of Florida leaders concerned with childhood hunger formally launched the partnership in Orlando. Grace Nelson, wife of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, served as honorary chair.

With nearly one of every five children in Florida at risk of hunger and with limited access to nutritious food, according to advocacy group Florida Impact, the church is integral to this type of outreach, Fields says.

“People in local churches can connect those in need with healthy food, write letters to the state legislature, help people sign up for food stamps, educate people about Earned Income Tax Credit, host an after-school or summer program and provide fresh produce, or start a new mentoring ministry to feed hungry children,” she said.

Fields and Melinda Trotti, director of the Florida Conference Justice and Spiritual Formation Ministries, a division of Global Mission and Justice Ministries, will present a report at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event May 31 on behalf of the conference’s Children’s Advocacy and Ministry Coalition recommending ways churches can help end childhood hunger. Every member to the conference session will receive a CD toolkit that includes resources and information to take home and put to work in his or her local church. There will also be a display with more information in the Expo Center during the conference session.

The Children’s Advocacy and Ministry Coalition is a newly-developed advocacy team of both Florida Conference and community groups representing ministries that meet the needs of children. It includes the conference’s camp and retreat ministries, outreach ministries and United Methodist Women and the United Methodist Association of Preschools, the Coalition for the Homeless, Children’s Week organizers and Florida Impact. The conference’s Council of Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty task force will also be folded into this coalition.

The idea for the coalition emerged during a children’s summit in February with the goal of developing strategies that encourage local churches to be involved in ministry and advocacy for children. The group is focusing on prayer and education, promotion of advocacy at the annual Children’s Week events in Tallahassee, and the Ten Point Plan to End Childhood Hunger in Florida.

Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker suggests to participants attending the “Shaping a Common Social Witness” Conference Table last year that a worthwhile Christian social witness would be “along the same lines as the 1908 Social Creed,” which influenced reform in American labor practices and focused on reducing hours, providing a living wage and instituting child labor laws. “It was concrete, not a vague sentimental list of ideals for society,” Whitaker said. Photo by Tita Parham. File photo #07-0538. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0635/March 10, 2007.

The conference’s push to end childhood hunger came from action taken at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event. Members voted to make children the top social witness priority of the conference, based on a recommendation from the “Shaping a Common Social Witness” Conference Table held in January 2007. Within that mandate, members specifically agreed conference churches would develop ministries to end hunger among Florida’s children.

A big part of that process is the conference’s ongoing collaboration with Florida Impact, an organization that has worked for many years on poverty issues and is spearheading the Florida Partnership to End Childhood Hunger’s Ten Point Plan.

Since 1979, Florida Impact has been dedicated to reducing hunger and poverty in Florida with a mission to inspire and enlist the people of Florida to secure justice for and with those whose economic rights have not been realized.

The Ten Point Plan seeks to:

  • Provide all of Florida’s children with a healthy breakfast,
  • Encourage healthy food choices,
  • Help families meet needs at home with food stamps,
  • Improve working families’ economic security,
  • Increase families’ access to fresh produce,
  • Help after-school programs provide healthy meals and snacks,
  • Expand the reach of summer-meals programs,
  • Ensure access to balanced, nutritious diets for all pregnant women and preschool children,
  • Ensure access to nutritious food in shelters and food pantries, and
  • Provide comprehensive public education about available assistance.

“I have not ever been a part of such a collaborative effort that pulls together government, education, private industry, higher education and faith-based groups that is so single-focused,” Fields said. “God has called the church to respond to those around us who are hungry and thirsty and to welcome the stranger. Our blessing as a church will be to be a part of this in the years to come.”

Conference from the comfort of home

The “Living the United Methodist Way” 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event will be webcast live, beginning with opening worship May 29 at 2 p.m. Individuals would like to view the events via the webcast may go to on the Florida Conference Web site and click on the webcast link.

The entire conference session, which runs May 29-31, will be webcast, enabling those not able to attend the annual gathering at the Lakeland Center to see the activities and hear the important news taking place.

More information about the conference session, including a schedule of activities and reports being presented, is also available on the Web site.


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.