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Marguerite Matthews was dressed in a lime green tie-dye shirt with deep purple accents, a paper hair net scooped her shoulder-length hair up and on her hands, she wore slick, plastic gloves. Folks are far more used to seeing her in a formal robe with a stole, or at the very least, dress clothes. The image of her behind the pulpit or walking down the aisle in the sanctuary is common. But today, she was seated at the table with them, weighing rice and vegetables and minerals, packaging food to feed 10,000 hungry people.
Matthews is pastor of Webster and Lake Panasoffkee United Methodist churches and led them both as they participated in the “Stop Hunger Now” challenge set out by their bishop’s wife. The one-year challenge was given to the Florida conference of United Methodist churches to pack one million meals to help stop hunger. The two local churches, along with St. Catherine United Methodist, took part by collecting quarters and other loose change during Lent. The 40-day period that precedes Easter, Lent is celebrated by many Christians as a time to really focus on fasting, moderation, repentance and spiritual discipline – all with the calendar moving toward the anniversary of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Through Stop Hunger Now, each quarter covers nearly the entire cost of providing one meal. The Stop Hunger Now is an international hunger relief organization, providing assistance and food around the world. Their mission statement is “To end hunger in our lifetime by providing food and life-saving aid to the world’s most vulnerable and by creating a global commitment to mobilize the necessary resources.”
“Our churches saw the need and the hunger of malnourished children through the world,” said Matthews, noting that the three churches provided the funds and then gathered to pack the meals. But others were excited about the idea of helping too. On packing day, folks from the church brought neighbors and friends.
Some of the folks who came to help were from the American Indian Christian Circle – they had been doing a presentation at one of the participating churches and heard about packing day – they drove from South Lake County to Lake Panasoffkee to help.
Tables were set out with tubs of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and the flavor mix that’s filled with 21 essential vitamins and minerals. The product was combined by five-person teams. Bags were placed in a container and then runners would carry them to workers at the table for weighing and sealing.
“We packed 10,584,” said Matthews.
“I think everybody was excited about it,” said Matthews of the outreach effort, pointing out that volunteers had already expressed interest in the future, asking if the challenge should be to pack 20,000 next year. One of the teens, Erika Dellinger, even suggested having a boat wash to raise money for the next round of meal packing.
“It was something that truly brought the community of God together,” said Matthews, adding it was also something that was done quickly. She said it only took an hour and a half to pack the 10,000 meals – and that was done with novice packers.
Matthews said the effort allowed participants to feel, “they were really doing something,” and it’s something that will have an impact across the world.
The food transports quickly and stores easily with a shelf-life of five years. The organization works with international partners that ship and distribute the meals.