The Rev. Laurinda "Laurie" Hafner, pastor of Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ, will climb up into the tower of the historic church Saturday morning, and she'll remain up there until three tons of food are donated to help feed hungry families in South Florida.
It's no accident that Hafner's hunger vigil to bring in food for people in her community coincides with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
"Much of what this weekend is about is service. As we commemorate Dr. King and his call to serve us, this is a way to commemorate and celebrate his mission and his birthday," Hafner said. "While for many it's a day off or opportunity to relax, we felt this needs to be commemorated and he needs to be lifted up. He said, 'Everybody can do something for someone,' so even a can of food can help others."
The idea for the hunger vigil came from one of Hafner's colleagues in Ohio, at the time she pastored Pilgrim UCC in Cleveland. The Rev. David Bahr, at Archwood UCC in Cleveland, would climb into that church tower to raise awareness for hunger and encourage food donations for northern Ohio families.
The Coral Gables community is one of the wealthiest in the United States, Hafner said, but just beyond, in Miami, is one of the poorest communities in the country. "And I thought, 'How incredibly ironic, but how incredibly sad,'" Hafner said. "So I borrowed freely from David."
There's little worry that the goal of three tons of food will have Hafner in the tower overnight. In fact, she is optimistic she'll be free by Saturday evening. This won't be the first time she has staged a hunger vigil in the church tower, either -- during the last one in 2010, her congregation collected more than two tons of food.
"We worked to raise awareness, funds and food for Haiti three years ago," Hafer said of her foray into the tower after an earthquake struck the Caribbean nation. "I'm going back again because there are such struggles in this community and because folks are hurting."
The collected food items will be distributed at the church and to Feeding South Florida, one of the largest organizations providing food in the state.
"They really are the center of food distribution of hungry people here," said Hafer. Coral Gables Congregational will use some donations to stock it's pantry "because people come to the congregation hungry and in need of a meal."
Community members can also participate through advocacy work, sending letters for Bread of the World, and letters to state and federal congressional leaders. Cash donations will also be accepted and added to the overall goal, with a dollar counting as one pound of food.
The evening closes with a community celebration with music and dance, and the local fire department — which will bring Hafner a ladder to climb down from the tower.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Hafner's vigil received tremendous support as Coral Gables UCC brought in almost four-and-a-half tons of food, and the fire department brought Hafner down on schedule at 7 p.m. "It was a great success and I was able to sleep in my own bed that evening. But the best part was that we were able to raise so much food and awareness for the hungry here in South Florida," she said.