Pastor Joan Fumetti and farmer Roger Hucke check kernels to estimate crop yield. Laura Hucke photo.
The Rev. Joan Fumetti has a smile that would melt an iceberg. Not that there are any icebergs in Fredericksburg, Iowa. But there sometimes is resistance among the five churches in her community to work together because of theological differences. The Fumetti charm melted any resistance this summer.
Of course, the pastor of Peace UCC would be the first to acknowledge she had a fabulous deal to dangle before her colleagues. It was very simple. Find a piece of land, grow something on it, sell the crop and use the money to help starving people overseas.
That's the appeal of a remarkable new international food relief program called the Foods Resource Bank. This two-year-old coalition of denominations, including the UCC, and church relief groups supplies the organizational and promotional muscle to attract churches into the program. Equally important, it serves as a national clearinghouse for member-proposed international agricultural development projects and direct food aid.
Participating local churches can "bank" their money with FRB for a future project or use funds now for a program in progress.
It is this combination of local control and flexibility that is so appealing, says Norman Braksick, FRB's executive director. Farmers, who might be reluctant to contribute $1,000, feel good in contributing labor and land, he says, while churches make the final decision on how their treasure is spent.
Suburban churches, too
Braksick stresses that the program is not just for farm communities. One suburban church has a pumpkin patch, and its youth group plans to sell the harvest from a roadside stand just before Halloween.
"If you can grow it and sell it, this program is for you," he says. And if you can't grow anything, Foods Resource Bank will act like a marriage broker, "twinning" urban and suburban land-poor but cash-rich churches with a country congregation that has farming know-how and land but not the deep pockets needed to fund a relief project.
Nor is the fund-raising for short term emergency relief. "We are in the long-term business of freeing up resources to help needy people around the world," Braksick emphasizes.
In Fredericksburg, Joan Fumetti knew exactly whom to turn to. Roger Hucke is a successful corn farmer and church member who agreed to donate 25 acres. The seed corn also was donated as were labor and storage.
"This is a great project for farmers," says Hucke. "Times are tight this year, but it doesn't cost me anything out-of-pocket." Best of all, he makes a contribution by doing what he knows best, growing things.
What expenses there were, fertilizer and rent for the land, were met by the sponsoring churches. That's important, because while corn farmers in Iowa expect record low prices this year, Peace church will still have a sizable cash donation.
1,500 acres—and counting
Energized by Fredericks-burg's response, Joan Fumetti is now eyeing nearby communities for 2002.
FRB's Braksick is overwhelmed by the organization's success, too. The first year saw 10 projects undertaken with 500 acres under cultivation.
This year it jumped to 40 projects with 1,500 acres. He is now looking for Midwestern-based regional reps to cope with what he expects will be a tidal wave of applicants in 2002.
UCC membership in the Bank is through Wider Church Ministries, which in 2001 made a $10,000 grant from One Great Hour of Sharing funds.
Now, if only suburban churches could find a market for crab grass.
William C. Winslow is the editor of Light, the publication of Faith and Values Media.
For additional Food Resource Banks information, contact Susan Sanders, Minister and Team Leader, OGHS and International Disaster Response, 700 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115; 216-736-3210; or Norman Braksick, Executive Director, Foods Resource Bank, 2141 Parkview, Kalamazoo, MI 49008-3925; phone 616-349-3467; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.foodsresourcebank.org.