Physical hunger is one thing. But the hungry also have an appetite for empowerment.
"There are many soup kitchens and community meals in the neighborhood," said the Rev. Lori Tisher, program manager for community outreach at St. Paul's Community UCC in Cleveland. "But we feel like giving people a choice in picking out their foods, almost as if they were in their grocery stores, is more empowering than just being handed a bowl of food to eat right there in the moment."
Tisher's reference is to St. Paul's food pantry – stocked primarily by the Cleveland Food Bank and Sav-A-Lot grocery stores – and to its participation in the UCC Mission:1 campaign to end hunger.
"We've distributed food to 35 families during the first 10 days of Mission:1," said Tisher. "That includes 36 adults, seven children and four seniors. Each family received a three-day supply of food – cereal, milk, tuna, ravioli, peanut butter, jelly, soup, macaroni-and-cheese, canned fruit and vegetables."
St. Paul's goal was to provide a three-day supply of food to as many neighbors as possible whose income is below the poverty level.
"We serve a wide range of individuals and some families," said Tisher. "The majority are 30- to 40-year-olds, but there are some seniors. The working poor and those receiving disability checks are also among those served. A lot of them get food stamps, but just not enough. And then there are the homeless people, living under the bridges. They just need something to tide them over."
Meanwhile, national UCC staff members in Cleveland have been proactively participating the past 11 days in Mission:1 community-service projects, including multiple visits to food banks, farm sites, local churches and elected officials.
"We had a huge variety of sites to visit here," said Kimberly Whitney, UCC minister for Community Life. "From local church soup kitchens and food banks to political advocacy on just best practices for international food relief, and a connection to our local hunger political scene. There were multiple visits to the Cleveland Food Bank, and one east- and one west-side farm experience."
One group visited the Ohio City farm – the nation's largest contiguous urban farm, at which the Refugee Empowerment Agricultural Program operates. Another group harvested sweet potatoes at Case Western Reserve University Farm.
"There's nothing like a city girl getting her hands dirty and her back full into a pitchfork digging up sweet potatoes," said the Rev. Loey Powell, executive for Administration and Women's Justice for UCC Justice & Witness Ministries.
The farm project comprises 400 acres of crops grown to supply the cafeteria at the university, support local efforts to feed the hungry, and provide an opportunity for young people to connect their passions for sustainable agriculture and environmental justice with their education.
"There are only two staff members tending the rows of plants, so any help they can get with the crops is very much appreciated," said Powell. "Those of us who live in cities and suburbs are mostly disconnected from the source of our food. What a wonderful reminder that the earth is God's and the fullness thereof."
From Nov. 1-11, 2011 (11-1-11—11-11-11), the UCC goal has been to collect more than 1 million food and household items for local food banks, as well as $111,111 in online donations for hunger-related ministries and $111,111 in online donations for East Africa famine relief. The UCC also asked its 5,300 congregations to advocate for hunger-related causes worldwide via 11,111 letters to Congress; by Nov. 9 that goal had been doubled
For further details regarding Mission:1, go to < ucc.org/mission1>.