United Church of Christ churches around the country are putting special emphasis on feeding the hungry in September, Hunger Action Month, and raising awareness about the issue in countless ways. From volunteering at food banks, to signing petitions, to wearing the color orange, to sending meals to underprivileged children, congregations are making it clear that hunger is an issue everyone should care about not just in September, but all year round.
"Food and hunger relief is one of the things we can make a difference with very quickly," said the Rev. Hank Fairman, transitional pastor for faith formation at Little River UCC in Annandale, Va. "Feeding the hungry is one of the first things we are called to do as a community of faith, and we need to look at the need around us both locally and globally."
The Board of Outreach and Social Justice at Little River UCC will dedicate its Fifth Sunday mission project, held at the church once a quarter, to hunger relief. On Sunday, Sept. 29, about 80 volunteers will package 20,000 high-nutrition meals to be delivered to schools and orphanages in developing countries. An initiative of Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief agency, the congregation participated in a similar project last year, sending 13,000 meals to children in Haiti. Stop Hunger Now will supply the food and packaging materials, and Little River UCC volunteers will measure and sort the food into individual meals, place the meals and seal them in plastic bags, pack them into boxes, and organize the boxes onto shipping pallets to be sent where the need for nutritious food is greatest.
"We have always been a church that supports hunger relief and food drives in the local community," Fairman said. "This agency works well with our international outreach."
Plymouth Congregational UCC in Fargo, N.D., a small congregation of about 40 people, is highlighting Hunger Action Month on its Facebook page during the month of September. The church has also conducted special offerings for its food pantry and clothing closet, and has assisted those who are homeless or underemployed by providing nonperishable food items, clothing, bus passes, grocery store and restaurant gift cards, and fuel cards, said the Rev. Grace Murray, pastor of Plymouth Congregational UCC. In addition, the congregation serves the evening meal once a month at Churches United for the Homeless, an organization of 57 churches in the Fargo area that provides shelter for individuals and families, and prepares sandwiches two Sundays each month for the organization's midday meals.
"Jesus Christ calls the Plymouth Church family to fight the causes of poverty that lead to hunger and homelessness and to help those who are in need now – these words drive the mission of our church," Murray said. "As a small, strong congregation, we take the small steps we can to make an impact in a large problem."
First Parish Church UCC in Gorham, Maine, encouraged its members to take the Speak Out Against Hunger pledge and sign the petition sponsored by Change.org. Bethel UCC in Arlington, Va., hosted a showing of A Place at the Table, a documentary on overcoming hunger in America, on Sunday, Sept. 15, followed by a panel discussion on hunger in the community with representatives from the Arlington Food Assistance Center, Bread for the World, and the Arlington County Department of Human Services. The United Church of Jaffrey in Jaffrey, N.H., encouraged its members to volunteer at the local food bank, donate nonperishable food items, and to wear orange ribbons throughout the month in support of the Hunger Action Month campaign's signature color.
"Our favorite color for fall is orange as we join the New Hampshire Food Bank's campaign to make September the Hunger Action Month," said the congregation's newsletter. "Together, we can solve hunger. As individuals, charities, businesses and government, we all have a role to play in getting food to those in need."
Hunger Action Month is sponsored by Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity working to feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks. During the month of September, leaders of the organization's network of food banks are encouraged to engage their communities to raise awareness about the 49 million Americans who suffer from hunger-related issues every day.