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Conference moves forward with goal to end childhood hunger

Conference moves forward with goal to end childhood hunger

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference moves forward with goal to end childhood hunger

By Sarah Alsgaard and Tita Parham | Feb. 24, 2009 {0979}

In 2007 members attending the Florida Annual Conference Event voted to make ministry with children a priority — specifically to end childhood hunger in Florida.

Vonda Richardson provides information on the initiatives of Florida A&M University Cooperative Extension/New North Florida Cooperative. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #09-1106. For longer description see photo gallery.

An event called Ministry from the Kitchen, held earlier this year at First United Methodist Church in Winter Park, was one more step toward achieving that goal. It helped food charity organizations connect with one another to increase their ability to help families meet their food needs.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to get groups like us together to find out how we can partner and how we can partner with the churches to really do feeding ministries in a better way, and especially in Florida,” said Barbara Sayles, Florida branch director of Society of St. Andrew.

Society of St. Andrew is a national, nonprofit hunger relief ministry and United Methodist Advance #801600 that coordinates salvage programs to gather leftover produce from farm fields and backyards. What’s collected is then given to a variety of food ministries. During the organization’s 30-year history it has collected more than half a billion pounds of produce and citrus, providing 1.7 billion servings of food to hunger relief ministries, according to the group’s leaders.

Approximately 50 people attended and 14 organizations were featured at the Ministry from the Kitchen event. The organizations gave presentations on their ministries and set up informational booths in the lobby area of the church.

“Food is one way that we show hospitality,” said Melinda Trotti, director of the Florida Conference Justice and Spiritual Formation Ministries, part of the conference’s Global Mission and Justice Ministries. “Whether it’s hospitality to our friends who go to church with us — the members who are there with us — but also how we choose to be in hospitality to those whom we don’t know.” 

Equal Exchange, Florida A&M University Cooperative Extension/New North Florida Cooperative, Halifax Urban Ministries, Angel Food Ministries, United Methodist Cooperative Ministries and Senior’s First were some of the organizations featured. Representatives from each were on hand to share information about their organization.

“What we try to do is not just feed,” said Bill Turner, who serves as treasurer of Halifax Urban Ministries’ board of directors. “What we’re trying to do is connect, and through food is a way, like a feeding program, to connect with people.”

The event was part of the conference’s commitment to the Florida Partnership to End Childhood Hunger, a coalition of more than 50 statewide organizations working to make Florida the first state to end childhood hunger. In 2007 Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker appointed Lynette Fields, executive director of Servant Ministry at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, as the conference’s representative to the core advisory group of the partnership.

The partnership, which is spearheaded by Florida Impact, an organization that has worked since 1979 to reduce hunger and poverty in Florida, has 10 specific goals. Ministry from the Kitchen focused on providing information about three of them: expanding the reach of summer meal programs, increasing families’ access to fresh produce, and helping after-school programs provide healthy meals and snacks.

Nancy Dougherty explains the Florida Advocacy Days event to a participant at the Ministry from the Kitchen event in January. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #09-1107. Web photo only. For longer description see photo gallery.

Another event — an ACCESS training session Feb. 27 at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando — will address several of the other seven goals: encouraging healthy food choices; helping families meet needs at home with food stamps; improving working families’ economic security; ensuring access to balanced, nutritious diets for all pregnant women and preschool children; ensuring access to nutritious food in shelters and food pantries; and providing comprehensive public education about available assistance.

The ACCESS training will teach churches how to become ACCESS sites, locations where low-income families can receive applications and information on such assistance programs as WIC (Women, Infants and Children program), food stamps, Medicaid, TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) and Florida Kid Care, the state’s children’s health insurance program for uninsured children under age 19.

“One of the things that’s happening is that as our economy goes downward, people are needing these benefits more and more, but state legislators are cutting the personnel to actually handle the people coming in and requesting the federal aid,” Trotti said. “So this is one way that those people can get the benefits without actually having to go into an office that may be understaffed.”

The conference has set a goal to have at least one United Methodist church ACCESS site in each district. More training sessions are planned in the northern and southern parts of the state later this year.

As part of the annual Children’s Week at the state capitol in Tallahassee, the conference’s Florida Advocacy Days March 29-31 will train people to become advocates for children, addressing another overarching goal of the conference’s ministry to children.

The advocacy effort is an initiative of the Children’s Advocacy and Ministry Coalition, an advocacy team of both Florida Conference and community groups representing ministries that meet the needs of children.

The advocacy effort is an initiative of The Children’s Coalition, an advocacy team of both Florida Conference and community groups representing ministries that meet the needs of children.
Members passed a resolution at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event addressing the need for local churches to participate in Children’s Week advocacy. For many years, Children’s Week has raised awareness of the needs of children in Florida to state legislators and others in Tallahassee. This year the Florida Conference is working to increase the number of participants and the number of people meeting with their legislators in Tallahassee and in their home districts.

Florida Conference United Methodists march to the Florida Capitol during the 2008 Children’s Week event in Tallahassee. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. File photo #08-0807. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0830/April 15, 2008.

Interested pastors and church members may join United Methodist Bishops Timothy W. Whitaker of the Florida Conference and Paul L. Leeland of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, Bishop McKinley Young of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and other advocates to pray for and advocate on behalf of children and families and learn about hands-on ministry to meet the needs of children in Florida.

United Methodists will gather March 29 with Children’s Week participants for the “Hanging of the Hands” in the rotunda of the state capitol, dedicating tens of thousands of paper cut-outs of children’s hands decorated by children and their teachers. March 30 features training on advocacy and specific bills legislators will consider, as well as a luncheon address by Florida state Senator Durell Peaden Jr., a United Methodist. March 31 begins with a prayer breakfast with the three bishops, followed by visits to legislators’ offices and an afternoon of training in hands-on ministry in local churches.

“Everyone is an advocate,” said Nancy Dougherty, coordinator of Florida Advocacy Days. “If you have thoughts and desires and cares of children, and the least of these, and if you have ever spoken on behalf of a child before, you can do this.”

More information about the advocacy days is available at or by contacting Dougherty at

More information about the ACCESS training at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 4851 S. Apopka-Vineland Rd., Orlando, is available by contacting Fields at or Trotti at

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is a freelance writer based in Lakeland.