As pastor of a Long Island church long known for its advocacy
work in fighting hunger, the Rev. Ron Garner feels he "has his feet on the ground"
in preparing for Mission:1
Don't look for any grass to be growing underneath them.
Come November, Garner – pastor of Wantagh Memorial Congregational Church in Nassau County – will add his personal exclamation point to Mission:1 by walking 111 miles all over Long Island.
"This comes at a great time for us to put a special emphasis on what we've always done and begin to change the focus of hunger issues," said Garner, planning to walk each day from Nov. 7-11. "We need to move hunger issues more into the area of justice, not just charity.
"The Mission:1 campaign plays on the UCC's motto, "That they may all be 1," Nov. 1-11, 2011 (11-1-11—11-11-11). During those 11 days, the UCC goal is to collect more than 1 million food and household items for local food banks, and collect $111,111 in online donations for hunger-related causes. It will also encourage its 5,300 congregations to advocate for hunger-related causes worldwide via 11,111 letters to Congress.
Garner hopes Mission:1 will help identify day-to-day issues the church can bring up that "not only support our food and our finances, but make people aware that there are hungry folks on Long Island and, of course, around the world.
Starting on the east end of Long Island, in Montauk, Garner
will follow a 111-mile course that includes a couple of detours. "If you walked
it in a straight line, it would be 104 miles, so we had to make a couple of
adjustments," he explained.
Taking donations along the way, Garner will make himself available at venues such as churches, schools and supermarkets to talk about hunger issues on Long Island, and how best to feed the hungry.
A support vehicle will travel a couple miles ahead of Garner. "First, so I don't have to carry a lot of things," he says with a laugh. "But it will also serve as our collection vehicle.
We plan to stop at a supermarket each day, and we can load up with items for the food pantry and bring them back each night."
Garner expects other walkers to join him for short increments along the way. Likely among that group will be his "very active 2-year-old Labrador Retriever, Jonesy (named after nearby Jones Beach). We usually do 5 miles a day," said Garner. "I've always been a walker, but with five days in a row at 22 miles each, I'm going to do some training."
He'll also prepare psychologically for whichever way the autumn winds – and possibly other elements – blow. "We get all sorts of weather at that time of year," he said. "Being so close to the ocean, I'm sure there will be wind issues. As autumn turns into winter, we sometimes have some driving winds."
The walk will culminate at the Freeport Emergency Food Pantry, one of two pantries under the auspices of the Long Island Council of Churches. "We have been a long-time financial supporter of Freeport Emergency Food Pantry," said Garner.
"In fact, for the last two years we have been one of two Long Island churches recognized by the Long Island Council of Churches for our support. Not bad for a congregation of 150."
Garner has been pastor at Wantagh for two years. He and his wife spent the previous 10 years as members of the United Reform Church in the United Kingdom.
"I was a hunger-justice advocate in London, and I couldn't help but be a hunger-justice advocate here," said Garner. "For many, many years, this congregation has made one of its main missions the food pantry."
Wantagh Memorial's participation in Mission:1 is not limited to Garner's walk. Other activities are to include:
- A 12-hour youth fast. "Our youth are quite fortunate with their own family circumstances, and issues of hunger are very far removed," said Garner. "Yet our youth have always been very active in collecting food for the church."
- 1,111 food items for the pantry. Youth group members will collect food items outside local supermarkets and discuss hunger issues with shoppers.
- "111 Minutes for Hunger" service. Food items will be collected and hunger issues will be discussed as part of a 111-minute-long interfaith worship service and mini-concert.
"And of course, the church will contribute letters and will support me on my walk," said Garner. "It's generating a lot of excitement."
For more information about Mission:1, go to www.ucc.org/mission1