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Vacation Bible School project helps hungry neighbors in Illinois

First Presbyterian Church of Monticello gives back to community

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Volunteers at First Presbyterian Church in Monticello, Illinois, prepare food packets for local food banks. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE – First Presbyterian Church of Monticello, Illinois, is not a large church, but it has a big heart. Over its 175-year history church members have always given back to the community says Pastor Paul Spangler. But a few years ago, the church tried something different for Vacation Bible School and the results proved beneficial for many residents in the small town as well as the church itself.

“We have a couple of great Christian youth education directors that don’t do typical Bible School,” said Spangler. “Instead of having the children make little crafts that come apart, get stuck in the mini van or trampled, the leaders decided to do something that would help other people.”

With that in mind, the directors began researching projects that could be incorporated into the summer program. In the past, the church has made dog biscuits and toys for a local animal shelter and provided small gifts to teachers for the start of school. Then the group came across an organization called Illini Fighting Hunger. One of its projects was re-packaging food for families in need. The project involved taking large bags of items like rice and dried vegetables and breaking them down into sealed meal packets for families.

“We looked at the option, raised some money and put the materials down so the children might be able to do it. We put them in hairnets and gloves and with some adult supervision, put them to work,” said Spangler. “We created an assembly line packaging and sealing the food so it might last a long time at a local food bank.”

Spangler says in one evening, the 60 volunteers produced more than 6,500 meals.

“We had heard about another church and community doing a project like this and thought we could do it as well,” he said. “The families found it very inspiring. Everyone was pumped and it was wonderful to be a part of it.”

Spangler says the one-night project proved to be a strong motivator for the congregation.

“We had a lot of great reaction from the church. They supplied the money to make this happen,” he said. “At first, the parents thought they were only going to produce a thousand meals, but I pushed them for 6,000. We were able to celebrate the following Sunday and show the piles of packaged meals.”

“We are thrilled about this congregation’s faithful ministry to address hunger and poverty,” said Andrew Kang Bartlett, associate for National Hunger Concerns for the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “Meal packaging programs are popular activities for churches. But when the food is sent overseas, we don’t always know where it goes or whether it hurts farmers in that region. First Presbyterian’s approach gets the food into their local food bank, which eliminates the potential harm to overseas farming communities.”

Earlier this summer, the Presbyterian Hunger Program announced the new Hunger Action Congregation covenant to acknowledge and invigorate churches for the work they do to end hunger. First Presbyterian became one of the first to be recognized in June.

In addition to the packaging project, the church also collects food and cleaning supplies to donate to people in need.

“We are always trying to come up with the next big thing,” said Spangler. “When they think about that night in Bible School, the people always shake their heads with big smiles on their faces saying they didn’t know they could do it. It still resonates in the community.”

All Hunger Action Congregations that have completed the covenant will be celebrated on World Food Day – Oct. 16. The application can be found online.


The Presbyterian Hunger Program is able to work with global partners to end hunger and poverty around the world because of gifts to the One Great Hour of Sharing.

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