Get to the bus, and bring enough to stuff.
That’s the Mission:1 mantra for at least two UCC churches in Michigan and New Jersey.
"We're aiming for 5,555 food items," said the Rev. Jeffrey Dick, pastor at First Congregational UCC in South Haven, Mich. His congregants will join community members Nov. 5 to "Stuff the Bus" with non-perishable food donations, toiletries, paper/household products and diapers to aid in the UCC Mission:1 campaign against hunger.
"There’s a lot of excitement that we are doing this here, but also that we’re doing it with a lot of churches across the country in unison," said Dick of the event to run from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. in front of the church building in South Haven, about an hour’s drive south of Grand Rapids on the state’s western shores.
"We've had a food pantry in a nearby community that was closed, and the reality is that we’re seeing a rise in the demand of the number of families coming in for food," said Dick. "People are aware of the rising need and some difficult times in the area."
Starting Nov. 1 and running through Nov. 11, 2011, the Mission:1 goal is to collect 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. The UCC also will ask its 5,300 congregations to advocate for hunger-related causes worldwide via 11,111 letters to Congress.
Led by the United Way of Van Buren County, and with the cooperation of local school districts, donors will try to stuff school buses with critically needed items.
"Our bus will be outside the supermarket," said Dick, "and we’ll have Boy Scouts and lay members of the church handing out lists of the items that are the most critically needed."
"The shoppers will go in, buy something from the list and bring it out to the bus.We’ve found that people are very good at responding to specific needs," he said.
While First Congregational is the lone official participant of the Mission:1 campaign, the joint effort will take place at six other sites simultaneously. Dick said he expects the synergy to be felt all over the county.
“We sponsor a Cub Scout pack and we are home to a food pantry for our community. We’re also a feeder food pantry for two small towns nearby us. So we often receive large supplies of food items and share them with at least two or three other food pantries,” he said.
"And we've hosted the (annual autumn) CROP Walk for almost 30 years," said Dick. "Our food pantry is well known to volunteers who have served in it."
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In New Jersey, members of First Congregational UCC in Haworth will bring food on Nov. 5 to a bus for the fourth time – the second time this year, according to Rev. Doug Stivison. "This event engages almost all of the congregation – young old, regular church attenders and folks we see only at Christmas and Easter."
"Our church moderator works for a local bus company, and he came up with the idea two or three years ago,” said Stivison. "He thought the idea of parking a huge (coach) bus in front of the church, with the luggage compartments opened up would be very eye-catching."
The strategy works a little better with each stuffing, says Stivison, noting that the spring event this year netted more than 260 grocery bags full of food. "And people contributed several hundred dollars on top of that."
Stivison said members of the two other churches in tiny Haworth (pop. 3,200) – one Catholic, one combined Lutheran/Presbyterian – have helped First Congregational with past bus-stuffings. Ditto for the two 12-step programs that meet at the church. "For the last one, the guy who runs the men's program gave us 10 or 12 bags full of food," said Stivison.
For more information on Mission:1, log on to www.ucc.org/mission1.