By Stan Friedman
BERLIN, CT (September 8, 2010) – Nearly 271,000 meals for starving people in Swaziland were packed during a three-day event sponsored by Bethany Covenant Church.
The event drew 1,000 people from several states as well as local civic organizations, businesses, and schools, says Becky Poor, Bethany’s youth pastor. Community Covenant Church in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and the Evangelical Covenant Church in Northpoint, New York, were among more than 20 churches from a broad spectrum of denominations that assisted.
The meals will be distributed through Feed My Starving Children (FMSC). The organization ships meals to more than 60 impoverished countries. Last year, it shipped 124 million meals. Connecticut Light & Power donated some of its warehouse space in Berlin to accommodate the project.
Organizers had not imagined the event would grow so large, but as they shared their vision, more people wanted to be involved, says Poor. Fifty football players and adults from a local Catholic high school packed 33,000 meals in two hours. More than 20 churches participated.
Emblematic of the enthusiasm, Bethany members Dick and Shirley Groves (lower photo) celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary by spending all of Friday helping pack meals. They also donated significant time before the packing as well as all three days. The couple raised $2,000 by giving M&M tubes to neighbors so the people could collect change.
CHIC events in 2006 and 2009 inspired last week’s project. Adults and students packed 1.1 million meals over the course of both gatherings in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Church members who packed meals at CHIC 2006 had wanted to sponsor a food-packing event when they returned home, but funding was not available, says Poor. (Each meal cost 17 cents at that time – and has now risen to 19 cents.)
Bethany member Alrene Burek was the driving force behind the project, says Poor. She accompanied the congregation’s youth group to CHIC 2009.
As Burek sat in the audience during a CHIC Mainstage experience, she was inspired to bring the packing project to Berlin. She recalls the speaker saying, “I don’t care if you are a 16-year-old student or a 47-year-old counselor, God is going to plant a seed of desire in your heart and you are to take it home and water it!”
Burek was turning 47 in a month, so she turned to a fellow counselor and asked, “Is he talking to me? I truly felt called to water this seed of hope.”
A committee was formed in August 2009. Publicity began with church members letting friends and family know.
The number of people who wanted to participate kept expanding far beyond what organizers had imagined, however. At first the church planned on packing 100,000 meals. That soon changed.
“We had so much support that we then planned on packing 200,000,” says Poor. That growing enthusiasm led to participants packing 270,864 meals – a full shipping container.
Poor says FSMC representatives were thrilled with the outcome of the event, which was only the second in New England to benefit the organization. Packing an entire container meant it could be delivered directly to the shipping dock in New Jersey.
If the containers are not filled, FSMC brings them back to its facilities in Minnesota and packs them with contributions from others before they are sent around the world.
The congregation will sponsor another event next year, but that may not be soon enough for some people. “I have heard from many that they don’t want to wait until next year to pack,” Burek says.
Organizers are dreaming big. “Our other dream is to bring a permanent FMSC warehouse to Connecticut so that we might pack 360 days a year and give people an opportunity to do God’s work of feeding his hungry children daily,” Burek says.
Poor says she hopes other churches in New England will be interested in packing food for FSMC, and Bethany organizers would be happy to help them get the process started.