As they pondered their Mission:1 objectives, the Rev. Corey Larson and the people of First Congregational UCC in Eldora, Iowa, knew one thing right away: If the bar was worth setting, it was worth setting high.
"The key was that we wanted to do something that wasn't going to be easy for our congregation," said Larson. "We didn't want this to be a token gesture."
So they decided to provide Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for 11 area families in need. Larson said he thought the goal – inspired by the UCC Mission:1 campaign against hunger Nov. 1-11 – was within reach.
"But I thought it was pretty ambitious, too," he said with a light laugh.
Working with social-service agencies, 11 families were identified – from a single elderly woman and elderly couples to a single young mother with five children – and the church's plan is falling into place, said Larson.
"We're providing short-term help with holiday meals, collecting turkeys for Thanksgiving and hams for Christmas," said Larson, 12-year pastor at First Congregational. "Our long-term goal is to partner with these families in whatever way they're comfortable doing that.
"We'd like to work with them to help them solve the problems they're facing, so that it's not a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing, where we make sure they have a meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then never have communication with them again."
Key to the food-raising approach has been the work of 11 "team captains" – members of the church charged with networking beyond its walls. "One captain is a schoolteacher at a local elementary school. She took our project to her school and invited colleagues and students to help out.
"Others did the same thing at their workplace, and a couple of captains put it on Facebook," said Larson. "They received an incredible amount of donations from Facebook friends who wanted to help."
Larson said that many in his congregation have been surprised – as well as motivated – to learn that hunger's grasp in Eldora (pop. 2,700) is as firm as it is.
"Some of the elderly women in the group we're helping don't have enough money to buy both food and medications. They've cooked all their lives, they know how to prepare a turkey, but they can't afford it.
"Then you have some of the other families, some of the younger ones – they don't know how to cook a meal, and they don't have a pan to cook a turkey in."
Cookware and utensils are being provided as needed, said Larson. "For Christmas, we're trying to find out which families may need something as simple as a crock pot."
As food donations for the families have poured in, they've been placed in the sanctuary windows.
"When we consecrated everything (Nov. 13), we brought them into the church and placed them in the altar area and had a blessing," said Larson.
"It's been really nice to watch to the donation pile grow and grow."