Written by Gregg Brekke
In a tradition that goes back as far as anyone at the church can remember, Mt. Sinai UCC on New York's Long Island has been collecting Thanksgiving food bags to share with the Island Heart food pantry. But this year, Mission:1 has given the long tradition added momentum.
Mt. Sinai expects to collect 200 bags of food during their annual drive. Mary Larson, licensed minister at the church, says that equals around 2,000 food items which will well exceed the 1,111 items the church has set as their goal for Mission:1.
When Larson asked around the office for confirmation of how long the Thanksgiving bags had been collected, the Rev. Diane C. Samuels, senior pastor and lifelong member of Mt. Sinai, said the holiday meal sharing had been a tradition at the church "at least since I was a kid."
An initial food collection – separate from the Thanksgiving bags – netted 560 items that have already been delivered to Island heart.
"We do a lot of mission in our community, so we've worked to combine Mission:1 with the activities we have," says Larson. "Mission:1 gave a boost to the work we were doing already."
"By having the information from the UCC it gave us something to help us build a bigger vision about what is going on around the country," she said.
And that vision has helped in Mt. Sinai's other food-justice related ministries. Members of church coordinated the Brookhaven Crop Walk on Long Island. At least 90 walkers from several denominations collected over $6,900.00 for Crop Walk. Their public display included the walkers making their way through the town of Port Jefferson to help raise awareness for hunger in addition to the financial goals.
The church has also exceeded its Mission:1 goal of 111 Bread for the World advocacy letters. Members, including the youth group, have sent at least 200 letters. The youth group is planning a second letter drive in the spring of 2012.
Larson says the church's justice activism is divided into two groups at this time. A 5th and 6th grade youth group and an adult group that came together as a result of reading "Half the Sky."
The 5th and 6th grade youth group is primarily working on what they call "The Greening Ministry," where youth learn how, regardless of their age, they can learn and share information concerning environmental justice with friends and family.
"We started with water bottles, getting kids to encourage their families not to use plastic water bottles," says Larson.
"We've been talking about food and poverty and what that means," she says. "One of the best parts of the program is showing the students how they can make a difference even though they aren't yet voting age."
The other group formed after a book study of "Half the Sky." They formed an action group and initially hope to direct their efforts at addressing issues of sex trafficking, gender-based violence and maternal mortality around the world and in the United States.
One of the best parts of Mission:1 for Larson is the name recognition and outreach potential of the coordinated effort.
"Even some of my friends, who aren't members of the church, commented on it," she says. "It's great to hear them say, 'it's so cool that you're doing that!' "
Mission:1 plays on the UCC motto, “That they may all be one.” It runs the 11 days from Nov. 1-11, 2011 (11-1-11—11-11-11). The goal is to collect more than 1 million food and household items for local food banks, $111,111 in online donations for hunger-related ministries and $111,111 in online donations for East Africa famine relief. Its 5,300 congregations advocating for hunger causes worldwide surpassed on Nov. 6 the goal of 11,111 letters to Congress. As of Nov. 8, over 20,000 letters had been sent.
For further information, go to < ucc.org/mission1>.