August 11, 2012 3:56:25 PM
Jan Swoope - firstname.lastname@example.org
BY JAN SWOOPE
Dehydrated rice was flowing Aug. 5 at First United Methodist Church in Columbus, as about 250 volunteers donned hairnets and plastic gloves. The goal? To package 30,000 nutrient-fortified meals for Stop Hunger Now, an international relief agency that distributes food and other lifesaving aid to children and families around the world.
It was all part of a concentrated week-long focus on serving others, here and far afield. And it involved every age group in the FUMC family.
The concept of hosting a Mission Fest Week came about organically, said Lee Burdine, chair of the church's Serving Committee. As various needs and projects were being discussed by different groups, the idea of consolidating several efforts into a week devoted to outreach developed.
Mission Fest Week began July 29 with youth in the FUMC Student Ministries preparing and serving lunch to guests, to help raise funds for a 2013 summer mission trip within the United States.
The church also hosted a blood drive.
"We've been partners with Mississippi Blood Services for a while, and their blood supplies are typically low in July and August, so we wanted to help out," Burdine explained.
The focus then turned to the Helping Hands food pantry in Columbus. Church members were given grocery bags and asked to bring them to the church Wednesday, Aug. 1, filled with non-perishable food items for the nonprofit agency which provides food and other assistance to families in urgent situations.
The response was overwhelming. Hundreds of bags of groceries were sorted by congregation members, and readied for delivery to the food pantry the following day.
"I have never seen that much food come in here at one time, and I've been doing this for 24 years," said a grateful Nancy Guerry, executive director of Helping Hands. "We were real low on food; it was awful. And this was like over-the-top amazing!"
Hands around the world
"On Sunday, Aug. 5, we hosted the packing event for Stop Hunger Now, a partner of the United Methodist Conference," said Elizabeth Swartz, director of FUMC Lay Ministries. "Stop Hunger Now is able to feed a person for a day for a quarter, so we let our children begin this effort by bringing offerings to Vacation Bible School. They raised 5,983 quarters, enough to feed almost 6,000 people!"
The meals, which consist of rice, soy and dried vegetables that can be cooked in water in sunlight, were sent directly to Jackson to be combined with a shipment headed out to distressed populations worldwide.
FUMC hosted a similar event two years ago, packing 20,000 meals for Stop Hunger Now, Swartz shared.
"This time we were challenged to pack 30,000. This was a huge undertaking for us, but our church family was up for the challenge," she continued. "This church has a real heart for serving."
The FUMC family exceeded their goal by more than 600 meals.
While missions is a year-round endeavor for the congregation, hosting Mission Fest with specific goals and convivial events spiked enthusiasm.
"We had great turn-out; these were nice ways for church members to get involved and work together," said Burdine. "The membership really made all this happen."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.