Long Island UCC pastor to put feet to pavement as part of 'Mission:1'
Written by Jeff Woodard August 16, 2011
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
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
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
"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."