Mission:1 gets Michigan UCC church into spirit of the season –– and beyond
Written by Jeff Woodard
November 29, 2011
Conducting their third capital-fund
drive in the past 10 years, members of Congregational UCC in Rochester, Mich.,
could have felt a pinch when the United Church of Christ announced its
hunger-fighting Mission:1 campaign.
"We didn't feel that it was fair to ask
our people for money, so we asked them to donate food," said the Rev. David
Wheeler, in his 10th year as pastor of the suburban Detroit church. "They did
so very, very, very generously."
To the tune of 3,125 items of food.
Now the church is collecting food to provide Christmas baskets
for 125 people, as well as $20 gift cards for everyone receiving a basket so that
they may buy meat for their holiday dinners. The baskets include green beans,
soups, tuna, macaroni and cheese, stuffing mix, fruit, gravy, Jell-O, cranberry
sauce, jam, peanut butter, bread, cereal and tea.
"The congregation took it on themselves
to do the food baskets for Christmas instead of relying on the food pantry,"
said Wheeler. "We wanted to do the food baskets in relationship to Mission:1."
Wheeler said the pantry serves about 50
families a week. "Because of the increased need for food in the community,
the shelves are pretty bare," said Wheeler, adding that as of Nov. 22, about
half of the food for the baskets had been collected.
"With Mission:1, there's a lot of extra
incentive. We've had a food pantry here for 50 years. It's the life breath of
our church to be able to respond to people in need, providing food for them."
Wheeler said one generous member has
dropped off $200 worth of gift cards. "It was most amazing. The folks here are
very supportive of our food ministries," said Wheeler of his 600-member
Food-pantry operations have expanded
significantly over the last six or seven years, said Wheeler. A wing added to
the church in 2007-2008 included a sanctuary and a 2,000-square-foot warehouse
for the food pantry. "That was a big, big job for us in recognition of the
needs in the community that were going to grow," he said.
The church is serving about 1,500 families this
year, and increase of one-third from previous years, said Wheeler. "In a
suburban area like this, that's pretty significant," he said. "This year
especially, the amount of food that's been on our shelves and the amount of
donations the community has been able to offer have had a limit."
Rich in its ties to the past –– established in
1827 as the first Congregational-based church in Michigan –– the church has
"quite a focus on the future," said Wheeler.
"I thought Mission:1 was a wonderful
emphasis by our entire church, and I liked that it was both meeting immediate
needs and looking at social-justice needs to change policy," he said. "We will
be able to participate more fully in the years ahead and be more engaged in the
study of the roots of hunger."
"I like it, and I hope it continues."