Written by Anthony Moujaes
Money pledged to fight hunger during the United Church of Christ's Mission:1 campaign, an all-church initiative last November, is still coming in to the national offices, with more than a quarter of a million dollars already distributed or earmarked for famine relief or food-related injustice.
The Neighbors in Need program, administered by the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries and one of the primary programs funded in part by Misson:1, is now taking applications for a fall round of grants. This spring, 51 recipients — double the number from the year before — were selected to receive up to $3,000 in grant money to support ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States. The fall application deadline is Sept. 30.
"Money is still available for awards and other projects for hunger action-related entities," said the Rev. Bentley de Bardelaben, executive for administration and communications in the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.
Among the organizations awarded grants in May are the Berskshire Food Project in the New England Area, and Food of God 4 People of God on the West Coast. Both organizations said the grants will help their long-standing mission of helping feed the hungry.
The Berskhire Food Project provides meals five times each week at First Congregational UCC in North Adams, Mass. The project began in 1987 by Williams College students, and First Congregational offered it a home to serve free meals. Serving an estimated 27,000 meals in 2010, Berkshire Food Project has since expanded to include educational support for issues such as domestic violence, self-esteem, life-coping skills, and nutritional information.
Valerie Schwarz, the project's executive director for the past 19 years, says the grant is a godsend because funding has been low, and there has been a spike in visitors in recent years because of cost of living increases.
"[The NIN grant is] going to help provide the meals and purchase food," Schwarz said. Berkshire Food Project is a mission of First Congregational and has access to the facility five days a week, but isn't affiliated with the church. "There's some education while [visitors] eat lunch," said Schwarz. "I'll have some people come in and talk about fire safety, or smoking cessation programs."
The Rev. Theresa Freeman of First Congregational UCC in Oakland, Calif., began Food of God 4 People of God while she was in seminary, according the ministry's website. The Bay Area organization first served meals publicly during Lent of 2010, and now feeds 50-80 people weekly.
"We would not be able to serve the underbelly of God's people without the Neighbors in Need money," Freeman said. "People cannot believe we're from the church and we're out in the street, and they're so grateful for good, hot, nutritious food."
The church helps feed a range of cultures and backgrounds –– young and old, male and female, all underprivileged but grateful alongside First Congregational for what they accomplish together.
"We're certainly blessed by the generous support of our ministry partners and conference partners as we seek to bring justice to this issue through Neighbors In Need," said the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries. "We're extremely grateful for the hunger action through Mission:1."
The latest large donation that recently arrived at the UCC national offices came from Trinitarian Congregational UCC in Concord, Mass., which raised $12,000 for the fight against hunger. And financial contributions aren't just coming from churches. Truck-driver Vincent Bechard recently donated a gift of $330 to the project after he says he learned about the campaign driving by a Mission:1 billboard in Missouri on Interstate 70 several times.
Mission:1 was an 11-day campaign in November 2011 that collected more than a million items for local community food pantries, generated 37,000 letters to Congress and raised more than $370,000 for U.S. hunger-related ministries and East Africa famine relief.
As of May, $187,000 had been pledged toward the Neighbors in Need program through Mission:1, and another $183,000 was distributed in Africa for famine relief through partnerships with the ACT Alliance and Church World Service. About $100,000 remains for future NIN grant cycles, de Bardelaben said.
"Last year, together we helped raise awareness to this global plight through the Mission:1 campaign," de Bardelaben said. "Gifts of money, food, as well as letters to Congress helped address this blemish upon our nation and world."
Find out more about the NIN application process.