Washington state UCC keeps Mission:1 alive
Written by Jeff Woodard
December 22, 2011

To the Rev. Judith Rinehart-Nelson, the need was obvious. The solution, in theory, was simple.

"I spoke with the local food bank, and they said they really needed peanut butter and jelly," said Rinehart-Nelson, pastor at Zion Philadelphia UCC in Ritzville, Wash., 60 miles southwest of Spokane. "The food banks get day-old bread and needed to put some protein on it."

But peanut butter is not always easy to come by in Ritzville, a community of 1,800 that was chomping at the bit this autumn to join the growing ranks of participants in the UCC Mission:1 campaign to fight hunger.

"We have to drive 45 minutes to the closest supermarkets," said Rinehart-Nelson. "Two little stores are all we have in town."

With the price of peanut butter rising in early November, she said participants were buying as much in advance as they could. Congregants came to church with stashes of peanut butter coupons to share with others.

Rinehart-Nelson not only energized the 120-member church with Mission:1 but also revved up interest in the community, which she calls "a great little spot in the world." Soon, they were all for "1" – Mission:1.

"It was hard to bring in a whole lot, but we wanted to keep with the theme of '1's' so we set a goal of 1,111 jars of peanut butter and jelly," she said.

The Zion Philadelphia mission board wrote letters to local newspapers and invited businesses to join them. "Nine businesses and churches participated with us, including two banks, the Ritzville Warehouse Company (RWC) and a nursing facility," she said.

They met their goal with a total of 1,127 items. Zion Philadelphia collected 395 jars, said Rinehart-Nelson, with the community adding 632. "And the Ritzville Warehouse Company gave money to buy 100 jars."

The RWC is a farmer-owned grain cooperative formed in 1893 by a small group of Ritzville-area farmers. Grain operations include 22 operating facilities in five counties on the Big Bend Plateau in eastern Washington's wheat country.

"We are one of the largest producers of white wheat in the world," said Rinehart-Nelson of the Ritzville area. "Most of it goes to Southeast Asia. Our farmers travel all over the world and are very much a part of understanding the problems of feeding the world."
 
For its efforts on behalf of Mission:1, the RWC was awarded by the church the "Golden Peanut Butter and Jelly Award," said Rinehart-Nelson.

The church is already anticipating next summer and further meeting the needs of local children.

"We have set a six-month deadline to collect more peanut butter and jelly, and are also adding tuna," she said. "May 20 is the deadline so kids can have food for the summer. We are reminding and encouraging businesses, and working with newspapers again.

"So, Mission:1 lives on in Ritzville."

The response to Mission:1 has happily surprised Rinehart-Nelson, Philadelphia Zion's permanent pastor only since October. "I wasn't quite sure what would happen. It was kind of a happy surprise. It really was."

Mission:1 helped the community learn more about what makes Zion Philadelphia and the UCC tick, she said.

"A lot of people think of us as Congregational, or those 'more liberal folks,'" she said. "They are asking more questions, they are getting to know me better, and finding out how diverse the UCC is.

 "God is still speaking, and we are still receiving."

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