Written by Gregg Brekke
When she heard about Mission:1, the Rev. Judith Medeiros started reaching out – especially to the younger people in her church's congregation.
"I began to seek as many ways as possible to include everybody in the church so that everybody felt there was something they could do to become educated and involved in the Mission:1 campaign," said Medeiros, associate minister of Congregational Life and Missions at Congregational UCC in Tolland, Conn.
The church's high school youth are participating in a mixed-media art exhibit titled "Faces of Hunger: A Teenager's Lens," while those in grades 3-7 have immersed themselves in a role-play project known as Hunger 101.
"I met with Todd Blais, director of the art department at Tolland High School, and he made our hunger initiative an assignment for his two photography classes," said Medeiros about Faces of Hunger. "They will be asked to take a photo of something that represents hunger for them, along with a title and brief explanation."
Medeiros said Blais originally had a friendly word of "warning" about teens' involvement in the project. "He told me, 'Remember, these kids are teenagers. They have a different perspective. I can't promise what their perspective is going to look like.' I said, 'That's exactly why I want them.' The only thing I'd veto would be if it's sexually explicit. We want to encourage their voice."
Mederois received the exhibit Oct. 28. More than 40 students had matted their pieces, written their names and ages on their work, and provided a description of it.
The exhibit will run through November, said Medeiros. "We hope to draw people from the community into the church. After the exhibit is here, it will travel to the Tolland Youth Coffeehouse, Tolland High School and perhaps some other schools."
Medeiros' Mission:1 mojo really began working in September when she took part in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), living on $4 a day for a week – the federally designated per-person allowance for those in need.
Through Foodshare – a Hartford food bank that had piqued Medeiros' interest in the SNAP Challenge – she learned about Hunger 101. "The Foodshare people came to the church and gave us a presentation about Hunger 101, and I shared my experience of the SNAP Challenge with the children in church."
Hunger 101 involves role-playing to teach children the concept of budgeting. "Children were given certain amounts of money and were told that was their budget," said Medeiros. "They had to pay their rent, utilities and groceries with it. They were also encouraged to apply for help if they needed it. They set up little stations for kids to go to, like Human Services, and fill out a form to apply for things like fuel assistance."
Then came a big test.
"One of the really neat things about it was that all of the forms were in Spanish in order to give the kids a feeling of what it's like to be an immigrant," said Medeiros. "The kids were saying, 'But I can't read this form.' That's the other side of it, not just the immigration issue, but what if you just can't read?"
In addition to the art exhibit and Hunger 101, the youth groups are hosting a hunger banquet. And all children's messages in recent Sunday services have been related to Mission:1, drawing on the "Making Poverty History" resource from Church World Service, said Medeiros.
From Nov. 1-11, 2011 (11-1-11—11-11-11), the UCC goal will be 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 will also ask its 5,300 congregations to advocate for hunger-related causes worldwide via 11,111 letters to Congress.
For more information on Mission:1, please visit <ucc.org/mission1>.