United Church of Christ churches across the nation are responding in leaps and bounds to the UCC Mission:1 campaign. And large numbers are taking it one step at a time in incorporating the annual autumn CROP Hunger Walk into their Mission:1 plan.
Among churches taking part in the CROP Walk are Chesterfield (Va.) UCC, First Congregational UCC in Bloomfield, Conn., and First Congregational UCC in Eugene, Ore.
Though participation in the past 20 years has varied from a couple dozen walkers to just three or four at times, Chesterfield's pace of giving for CROP Walk is accelerating.
"In the 1990s, we were a relatively large congregation with a lot of families, and we averaged 22-23 walkers," says Gail Christie, a church member who has coordinated Chesterfield's CROP walkers since 1987. "We then had ministerial change and a large loss of membership, and since the mid-2000s we've averaged fewer than 10 walkers."
"Last year we had 14 participants and raised nearly $2,300 –– the largest amount of any of the participating groups in the local walk," Christie adds. "Before last year, the largest amount we had raised was $1,963. That was in 1988 with 28 walkers."
CROP (Community Response to Overcome Hunger) Hunger Walks are community-wide events sponsored by Church World Service (CWS) and organized by local congregations. Chesterfield UCC's walk will be held Nov. 6, in the middle of the UCC's Mission:1 campaign geared toward fighting hunger worldwide.
Christie cites a "dedicated core" of participants for Chesterfield's success in the event.
"The congregation has contributed regardless of the number of walkers, so the funds raised are much more consistent than the number of walkers," says Christie, who also coordinates the larger Richmond-area CROP Walk.
Christie says that after Chesterfield UCC's sister congregation in Richmond, St. John's UCC, became a host congregation for the walk, she had to pitch in as coordinator. "I resisted for years, but when St. John's UCC took it over, I couldn't say no anymore," she says with a laugh. "They're a sister congregation, so I had to help."
First Congregational UCC in Bloomfield, Conn., has been crafting a "Project of Elevens" as a unique CROP Walk tie-in to Mission:1. The project calls for outreach programs in multiples of 11.
"Our Project of Elevens will include 11 or 22 walkers in the CROP Walk Oct. 16," said church spokesman David Hager. "We will be collecting food for 66 Thanksgiving baskets for our community and bringing in contributions, again in multiples of 11, for the famine relief effort in Somalia and for our Bloomfield Food Pantry," said organizer David Hager.
The church also is presenting weekly thought-provoking topics related to hunger to the congregation. "For example," said Hager, "what does a family of four live on if one person works for the minimum wage 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year? Is this above or below the poverty line?"
In Eugene, Ore., at First Congregational UCC, church members will make their debut CROP trek Oct. 16 at Alton Baker Park.
"Our walk is being sponsored by our local food bank, Food for Lane County," says Mary Mowday, church recruiter for the event. "It's an interfaith coalition of about a dozen faith communities throughout Oregon."
Mowday says 18 church members are signed up to walk, with youth group members coming on board recently. In addition, the church hopes that students from the University of Oregon, where fall classes are about to begin, will join in the walk.
Last year, the interfaith churches raised about $20,000, which was forwarded to Food for Lane County and Church World Service, says Mowday. CWS uses proceeds for international food relief.
"The intent of the CROP Walk is to raise money, but it's also raising awareness in our community about hunger right here," she says. "And we've all seen the stories on the news about Somalia. This gives people a way to help."
First Congregational has a history of participation in hunger-relief work. "Every month we provide volunteers for the food kitchen and the Dining Room, which serves meals to homeless people," says Mowday. "Our church has responded really well in that area."
The Mission:1 campaign plays on the UCC's motto, "That they may all be one." From Nov. 1 to 11, the UCC will collect more than 1 million food and household items for local food banks, $111,111 in online donations for food-related justice ministries, $111,111 for East Africa famine relief, and 11,111 letters to Congress advocating for hunger-related causes worldwide.
For further information, log on to www.ucc.org/mission1