On a recent Saturday, congregants packed 28,000 meals in two hours
May 26, 2020
Packaging thousands of meals to feed the hungry goes a lot faster when music is playing.
As feel-good hits from Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Diamond and Michael Jackson played from a loudspeaker in a corner of the Fellowship Hall, volunteers at First Presbyterian Church in Winchester, Virginia, packed more than 28,000 bags of rice, soy protein and dried vegetables in about two hours on a recent Saturday afternoon.
“First Presbyterian Church is a hunger action congregation,” said Rev. Dr. Dan McCoig, pastor of First Presbyterian. “We take seriously Jesus’ teaching to feed the hungry. Rise Against Hunger is one of our many hunger action ministries. It’s an opportunity for members of the congregation to learn more about hunger in the world and to do something concrete about it, such as making and packing meal packets for shipment to food insecure regions of our world. We get a sense of following Jesus and serving our neighbor.”
As the music played, teens and able adults stood shoulder to shoulder to fill bags with uncooked food. Other volunteers, some in wheelchairs or hooked up to oxygen tanks, handled sedentary tasks such as sealing or weighing each bag. Children, barely tall enough to see over the tables, carried large buckets filled with food from one station to another.
“I think it’s a good project for us because it brings together different generations,” said Rev. Amanda Maguire Thomas, the church’s associate pastor, as she looked at the dozens of volunteers. “The last time we did it, the youngest was 4 and the oldest was 84. We really feel it’s good for all ages and all ability levels.”
First Presbyterian, with about 840 members on the books, is located on a pedestrian mall in Winchester, a small city 75 miles west of Washington, D.C. With its prime downtown location, the church regularly hosts outreach programs, including a Thanksgiving dinner that feeds thousands and Jubilee Kitchen, which has provided a hot lunch every Saturday to community members in need for 25 years.
But the church’s mission statement calls for it to serve “Winchester and beyond,” Thomas said. Rise Against Hunger, established by a Methodist minister in 1998, helps with the “beyond.” The packaged meals are sent to places that need emergency relief during droughts, floods or political unrest. Meals are also delivered to impoverished communities that require a steady safety net of food.
Rise Against Hunger supplies the food and equipment. The church was responsible for paying for the shipping costs. “It’s really a credit to this church and this congregation with their faith and ministry. We’re not a budgeted item. It’s all donations,” said ruling elder Patrick Pearson. “The church is really big into hunger relief.”
First Presbyterian’s first Rise Against Hunger event was in June 2019 during a fifth Sunday when the church typically rolls its three services into one, often making time to complete a service project. More than 200 people showed to help that first time, and none had been assigned to a station. The line was out the door. Plus, all the packaging was completed during the regularly scheduled worship service. “I preached a sermon and then we packed the meals,” Thomas said. “This time, we said, ‘Let’s just have a dedicated time to do this.’”
Despite the slow start, the volunteers managed to get more than 14,000 meals — or one pallet of boxes — packed in one hour the first session. “I thought we should be able to do two pallets this time no problem,” said Pearson, adding that he hopes to make Rise Against Hunger a yearly event.
First Presbyterian will find out in a couple of months exactly where its packaged meals are going. Whether the meals stay close by or are shipped thousands of miles doesn’t matter to 71-year-old Jan Smith, who has attended First Presbyterian her entire life. The reason for helping doesn’t change with geography, she said.
“We do it because Christ tells us to,” Smith said. “That’s what it boils down to — this is what Christ tells us to do.”
Robyn Taylor, Reporter and Writer, The Winchester Star, Winchester, Virginia, written for the Presbyterian Foundation
Today’s Focus: Rising Against Hunger
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
Most powerful Creator and gracious God, be our guide. Inspire us to build unity and trust among your people. Teach us to live as you would have us live. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.