The food came from everywhere and piled up and up and up. Once the combined effort from us and Christ and First United Methodist churches hit (and exceeded) our massive goal of collecting 3,510 items of food, we still have more work to do.
We knew we wanted to get it into the hands of places that could use it as soon as possible. We also knew we wanted to get the word out about what three churches can do together. That’s when Rev. Dawn got busy contacting TV stations and newspapers as well as representatives of the four organizations that were going to be recipients of the food. Before we knew it, we had a press conference lined up for this past Monday.
I have to confess, I’ve never been on the speaking side of a press conference so I was a bit nervous and uncertain. I quickly learned that, aside from telling the story of what led to us collecting so much food, it was about getting out of the way and letting the recipients tell their stories. And what stories they are. (Watch the press conference on our website: https://greatfallsucc.org/ – scroll down to the video for 3510 Food Project)
We heard from food pantry coordinators and principals from West and Whittier elementary and East middle schools. We heard from the director of Helping Hands Ministry. We heard from Mayor Bob Kelly.
What we heard from the schools was heart-breaking. We heard of schools where 100% of the student body qualifies for free and reduced lunch. We heard of the backpacks of food that go home with students every Friday so they don’t go hungry over the weekend when there’s no school breakfast or lunch. We heard of the need for things like toothbrushes and toothpaste and deodorant. We heard how important it is to provide food that doesn’t require can openers because not all households have can openers, or microwaves, or stoves. Imagine that one of the things a child learns at school is that they can place a can of SpaghettiOs in a bowl of hot water (from the tap) to heat it up a little bit.
The nearly 3,700 items of food (including cash) that we collected will indeed make a huge difference in the lives of the recipients. I am, however, struck by the reality that, eventually, the food we so lovingly collected will run out and many of the recipients will continue to be food insecure. In Great Falls. In the United States. In 2023. I am continually asking how there can be such hunger in our community, in our nation, at this time.
I turned to the internet and discovered that it’s a very complicated issue. I’m not surprised. I was hoping, though, that there would be a quick and easy solution. Childhood hunger is tied up into childhood poverty which is linked to overall poverty and housing and unemployment and healthcare and low wages and mental health and racism and gender inequality and lack of education and… and… and. And, it’s overwhelming. Jesus once said that the poor would be with us always. I don’t want to believe that. Instead, I want to believe that the arc of the universe will keep bending towards justice and there will come a time when our schools will be able to concentrate on educating healthy, happy children who have no idea what it’s like to go to school with hungry tummies.
In the meantime, I hope we’ll keep collecting food and clothing and school supplies. I hope we find ways to collect can openers and provide a few microwave ovens along the way. I also hope we’ll be looking critically and faithfully at the systems and laws and customs and practices that allow poverty and hunger to persist. I hope we’ll insist that our elected and appointed leaders and officials make a commitment to reverse trends that foster poverty. I hope we’ll prove Jesus wrong—that the poor will not always be with us. I hope we do it all in the name of the one who gathered the children into his arms and blessed them. I want all the children to know they are blessed because they never have to be hungry.