Major gift inspires generosity in Calif. congregation's hunger efforts

Major gift inspires generosity in Calif. congregation's hunger efforts

December 04, 2011
Written by Gregg Brekke

What began as a simple donation with basic instructions turned into one of the largest donations by a faith-based organization that one California food bank has ever received. 

The facts are chilling. Nearly 1 in 4 children in California are now living in poverty according to the recent U.S. census bureau. As poverty figures for the country have increased tremendously adding to the gap between rich and poor, California's numbers are  more dire than the national average, with nearly 6 million people now living in poverty.

This bad news inspired the Rev. Laurie Manning and the justice-seeking congregation at Skyline Community UCC in Oakland, Calif., to take aggressive action when they received a donation of $25,000. The donation came with the simple instructions "to give to an organization that makes a difference in the local community."

"We're a little church and I'm a little pastor in the big city of Oakland," said Manning. "We want to make a big difference in Alameda County, especially now, in this tough economy where 1 in 6 people don't have enough money to buy healthy food, especially families with children and the elderly on fixed incomes … increasingly the images of the long food lines from the Great Depression are returning."

It was clear to the members of Skyline that this donation should go to the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB) that operates through a network of 275 strategically placed member agencies – food pantries, soup kitchens, child-care centers, senior centers, after-school programs and other community-based organizations. The Food Bank distributes enough food for 300,000 meals weekly. Because of the Food Bank's purchasing power, $1 donated becomes roughly $5 in food.

As a small church, Skyline has partnered with the ACCFB for years through volunteering at the Food Bank, collecting food to donate and preparing and serving meals at various pantries. The donation gave Skyline an opportunity to make a much larger positive difference

Skyline had other plans than just making a straightforward donation. "We didn't want it to be that easy," said Manning. "Simply providing the gift was not enough for us: we hoped for a bigger miracle."

With the goal of inspiring others to act, they created a matching gift program. For every dollar contributed to the Food Bank, Skyline will match that dollar up to $25,000. That's $50,000 – the equivalent of $250,000 worth of food distributed through the Food Bank.  

"We decided we wanted to multiply the loaves of bread, fish, fresh carrots and broccoli. The gift will provide to feed countless numbers of poeple," said Manning.

The matching gift program proved to be a success including an additional big surprise.

Sunday, Sept. 25, Manning was invited to speak as part of the Alameda County Food Bank's annual "Savor the Season" fundraiser, held at Wente Vineyards in Livermore and hosted by Dave Clark, a local news broadcaster.  As the Food Bank's largest annual fundraiser, the 400-person audience included representatives from ACCFB's major corporate, small business, art and educational groups, and non-profit sponsors. A large handful of Skyline members were also present. There were live and silent auctions throughout the night.

Scheduled to speak directly before the live auction, Manning addressed the crowed about the business of transformation; not only transforming material and intellectual property into goods and services, but even more, transforming people's lives generating meaningful positive change in the world.

"Each one of us can make a difference, one person at a time … our actions have power. Our actions have a rippling effect," Manning told the crowd. "We're hoping to multiply that effect by acting together. Together we can end hunger, here in Alameda County. Together we can change lives for better, especially for children."

Before the live auction began, the auctioneer announced a message from an anonymous source stating, "Based on Pastor Laurie's presence and powerful message, we are adding another $10,000 to Skyline's challenge. So bid generously and bid often."

The initial matching pledge of $25,000 donated through Skyline by the Manley/Can bequest grew to $35,000. As a centerpiece of the live auction, Skyline directly assisted in helping the campaign net $293,000, the equivalent of almost $1.5 million worth of food distributed.

"While the actual dollar amount that was generated by the match is hard to quantify, we believe that all those paddles (bids) that were raised during the Hunger Fighter portion of the auction were a direct result of your presence and powerful message," wrote Kathryn Weber, corporate partnerships and events coordinator of ACCFP in a letter to Manning. "Your initial $25,000 challenge (and the additional $10,000 challenge you inspired) has been matched!"

"Skyline's contribution ranks among the largest single gifts we've received from a faith-based organization and is an exceptional gesture given the size of the congregation," said Suzan Bateson, executive director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank. "We're very honored to partner with Skyline for the fall campaign and we know that their gift will be an inspiration to others."

"We were delighted to receive this generous gift," said Bateson. "It will go a long way in helping us serve our neighbors in need."

Skyline's fundraising effort for ACCFB ended as the UCC began its Mission:1 campaign in which the denomination collected more than 1 million food and household items for local food banks, as well as $111,111 in online donations for hunger-related ministries and $111,111 in online donations for East Africa famine relief during the Nov. 1-11, 2011 (11-1-11—11-11-11) time period. The UCC also asked its 5,300 congregations to advocate for hunger-related causes worldwide via 11,111.

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