It’s a community effort that ends with cake. Each year, the children, parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents of First Congregational Church in Westfield, N.J. spend the six weeks of Lent focusing on fighting hunger and ending poverty by partnering with Heifer International. The project is celebrated by the congregation with a cake auction on Palm Sunday.
"For more than three decades, our church has contributed to Heifer International, raising a total of $41,262 since 1978," said Alida Woods, church school superintendent. "The idea of giving to programs that help people help themselves is a wonderful concept and it has touched our hearts."
The congregation begins this year’s fundraising drive on Sunday, March 9, with the children, using Heifer programs. Church leaders add Heifer stories to the "Moment for Children" during worship. They also hand out "Fill The Ark" calendars and banks and "Read To Feed" resources for home projects. The cake auction includes homemade cakes in the shapes of Heifer animals. Each cake has an auction jar, from which the winners are drawn.
Woods estimates a large majority of the church’s 600 members get involved, with a lot of them baking cakes for auction. She says that whatever the church community raises, a generous couple in the congregation matches every year.
"During the season of Lent, members are not overwhelmingly busy and have recovered from the holidays," said Laura Berzofsky, church member and Heifer volunteer. "The coming of spring creates a positive energy, a spirit of fresh new beginnings. Heifer’s animals, and the prosperity they bring, have powerful symbolic resonance."
Heifer International is a global nonprofit leader of sustainable agricultural development for smallholder farmers. Family-oriented, community-based development models remain at the core of Heifer’s programs, along with the "Passing on the Gift" process, where families agree to give the first offspring of their donated animal to another needy family.
"Heifer International has been a very important part of our church," said Woods. "It exemplifies what we believe in — helping others."
"Research tells us that an estimated 870 million people in the world suffer from hunger," says Pat Keay, national community engagement director for Heifer International. "We will need to double food production over the next two-to-three decades to keep up with worldwide demand. Support from churches like First Congregational is critical to help reach our goal of assisting 2 million families annually."
"Passing on the Gift" works for donors as well as recipients. One church member, who visited a Heifer ranch as a teen, is now a mother and teaches in the Sunday School. "It’s an example of how Heifer succeeds. One cow, and one person leads to a ripple effect, expanding the blessings in a wider circle," says Berzofsky.
For information about Heifer International programs, or to order resources, visit www.heifer.org. Printed resources are available by calling 1-888-5-HUNGER.