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All about food: Recipe contest benefits the hungry

All about food: Recipe contest benefits the hungry

When Sue Curtiss, missions chairperson at First UMC, Clearwater, heard about the Florida Conference recipe contest, she knew it was a way members could support the church’s food ministries.

Her fellow congregants came through in a big way, submitting more than 500 recipes to win first place in the contest and $1,000 for the church’s food ministries. Other winners were Cokesbury UMC, Margate, second place, and Keeney Chapel UMC, Tampa, third place. Those churches won $750 and $500, respectively, for food ministries.

“As a church, we are always looking for ways to give back without asking for money,” Curtiss said. “Sharing recipes was a way that everyone could help support our feeding ministries.”

The Florida Conference recipe contest, kicked off in September, drew nearly 700 recipes from local churches by the Nov. 20 deadline. Churches that submitted the highest number of recipes received funding for hunger prevention ministries of their choice.

“We sponsored the contest to give churches a chance to gain some financial support for their hunger prevention ministries,” said Gretchen Hastings, Connectional Relations director for the Florida Conference.

“It also was a way to introduce church members to our new website, which is focused on church and church members’ stories — and recipes.”

Bowl of shrimp and grits
Shrimp and grits is among recipes submitted by Uary Jones of Keeney Chapel UMC, Tampa. "This has become a staple for Christmas brunch," Jones says. Click here for the recipe.

Curtiss knew First UMC, Clearwater, has two phenomenal cooks among its membership – Judy Hughey and Jean Foster – whom she approached about the recipe contest. The two women submitted the bulk of the recipes from First UMC, about 500 in all.

“I went to Judy to tell her about this great opportunity, and she started submitting recipes and never stopped,” Curtiss said. “Jean then said, ‘If Judy can do that, so can I.’ They really were involved.”

Curtiss also put together a committee to help members who did not have computers or who were intimidated by technology. Those volunteers spent hours typing recipes for the Florida Conference website. The contest had additional benefits: members working together and bonding over recipes.

“I did not know Jean because we attend different services,” explained Curtiss, who also submitted some of her own recipes.

"It’s been wonderful because we formed a bond over recipes that we wouldn’t necessarily have had.”

Foster said she was submitting recipes until five minutes before the deadline. After about 150 recipes, she lost count of how many she actually contributed.

“I went through my mom’s old recipes,” Foster said, “Some of those recipes are older than me, and I’m 80.” 

First UMC, Clearwater, currently has two food-related missions. A “Pack-a-Sack 4 Kids” ministry supports a local neighborhood school, Belleair Elementary, by providing bags of nutritious food on Fridays for students to use over the weekend. During the 2014-15 school year, the church provided 135 sacks of food per week. In addition, First UMC partners with other churches in the area to provide dinner for area residents in need on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Peace Café.  

Curtiss reported that the church’s missions committee will meet in January to discuss how to use the $1,000 award. 

“It probably will benefit the Pack-a-Sack program,” she said. “We are serving 110 kids this year, and it’s quite an expensive undertaking. We’re always looking for extra funds for that program.”

At Cokesbury UMC, Margate, the second place award of $750 will be used to benefit the church’s food pantry. Currently, the church serves 180 people twice a month by providing bags of groceries, and the winnings will be used to buy more staples. 

“As soon as our pastor announced the recipe contest, we started thinking about it because we have a very active food mission,” said Marie Madarasz, who submitted almost half the 106 recipes from Cokesbury. “We didn’t think we had a chance because we are a small church, but we wanted to try because it would help the food ministry.”

An avid collector of recipes, Madarasz sent about 50 of her own and then helped members who didn’t have computers submit their recipes.

Her recipes are often named for the family and friends who gave them to her. She is particularly fond of “Lottie Anderson’s Stuffed Cabbage.”

“That was my mother’s, and everyone in the family adored it,” Madarasz said. “It takes a little more effort, but it is worth it.” 

Family recipes also were popular for Keeney Chapel member Uary Jones, who collected and submitted enough recipes to place third in the Florida Conference recipe contest. Florida Conference tallies attribute 53 submissions to the Tampa church. 

“The church produced a cookbook several years ago, and I knew we had a fighting chance to win because we already had a pile of recipes,” Jones said. “I asked members to give me even more.”

Jones, who is a librarian and owns about 400 cookbooks, is no stranger to compiling recipes. She helped produce a historical cookbook that benefited the Ada T. Payne Friends of the Urban Library in Tampa. 

Her father-in-law’s recipe, “Big Daddy’s Mustard-roasted Cornish Hens,” was one of her favorite submissions for the Florida Conference recipe contest.

“Those hens are the highlight at our family gatherings,” she said. 

Keeney Chapel currently has a small food bank that is stocked by members who donate canned goods on a regular basis. 

“The money will be used to start a new type of food ministry,” Jones said. “Without this award, we probably wouldn’t have been able to start anytime soon because we are a very small church.”

During the two-month long contest, 687 recipes were collected in nine categories, including appetizers, beverages, breakfasts/brunch, desserts, entrees, salads, sandwiches/pizza, side dishes, soups, stews, and chili. All the submitted recipes are now on the Florida Conference website at

– Mary Ann DeSantis is a freelance writer based in Lady Lake.