"We are a small, rural church in an area with high unemployment," says Susan Chamberlin of her 100-member church, perched in the heart of conservative country. "It was bad even before the recession."
Enter Mission: 1, the UCC's precedent-setting campaign to battle hunger Nov. 1-11.
"We used Mission: 1 to boost up our local situation, because there's so much extra need here," said Chamberlin. "We collected $328 for Mission:1 that we have decided to use locally for our food pantry, the food bank and holiday dinner baskets."
"We gather in extra food to use for our emergency food pantry, our local food bank and the food baskets we do at Christmas," said Chamberlin, a 50-year member of the church. "We knew we'd be able to collect more [this year] than we normally gather."
On Nov. 20, their lists in hand, church youth began conducting a "scavenger hunt" for various food items, approaching congregants and the community at-large for contributions to go into Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets. Additional items will come from the food pantry and a cash fund for turkey purchases. "We do that at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter," said Chamberlin.
"I would say we give in incredible numbers –– in amazing numbers," she added. "We have always strongly given to Our Church's Wider Mission (OCWM). We have a certain percentage that we give, and we raise that amount every year."
Chamberlin said that when a key division of Alcoa left Chewelah around 2000, it took many of the best jobs with it. "With the building industry being cut back, the logging industry was cut back," she said. "Between the logging and the mills, it caused a lot of job loss."
Most of Chewelah UCC is composed of retirees, as the pool of area children, youth and young adults is dwindling. "We have a grey congregation, much like everybody else," said Chamberlin. "And in a bad economy, families migrate to the city to look for work, removing more children from local schools. We cherish each one of our younger people. We've lost children from our schools, and some teachers' jobs have been cut."
Chewelah's spot on the map may seem remote, but the church has always been well ahead of the curve when it comes to environmental stewardship, said Chamberlin.
"We bought a low-energy, high-performance dishwasher, we don't use paper, and the building is highly insulated. It's all on one floor and is handicap-accessible. And we did all that 35 years ago," said Chamberlin. Then, rechecking her math, she added, "Wait, no –– it was 40 years ago."
"We've also been recycling newspaper for 20 years. We load up a semi three times a year and sell it to a company that makes insulation. That pays half of our camp fund."
When times are tough, said Chamberlin, Chewelah UCC stands tall among the timber.
"We don't make a big production of it," she said. "People come to us when they need us. It's word of mouth. We've kind of always been a step ahead. We're very progressive for northeast Washington. That's all I can say."