241 miles. 7 days. A couple of bicycles. This is The Hunger Ride: Feeding People, Feeding Souls.
Many of us will never know what it means to be chronically hungry. And yet too many of us will. A lot of us would like to suppose that, if only more people knew about this and thought about this, then we'd get something done! But there's another story to tell—the story of all of those who do answer the call to serve, and are working hard every day to feed their neighbors and to help their neighbors feed themselves. This story goes untold too often, so the Northwestern Minnesota Synod created The Hunger Ride.
Educating people about hunger and poverty is a trivial chore if we don't give those people somewhere to use the energy these stories create. So six Hunger Ambassadors suited up, stretched out, and peddled their way across the synod to connect people to the stories of the hungry and the stories of those who accompany them. The riders stopped at events along the way, planned by hosting communities, to raise awareness about hunger locally and abroad, and to start conversations.
See for yourself:
Linda Eickman, a licensed social worker working in Christian resource development and one of the Hunger Ambassadors, said that the best part was meeting so many new people. "[I] loved discovering the great services and organizations we have in our communities that support our hungry families."
The Hunger Ride was the synod's opportunity to celebrate with those who strive to relieve the weight of hunger and poverty in its communities and across the world, including the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, Meals on Wheels (through the local Wadena Area Seniors Bag Program), and—of course—ELCA World Hunger. Or as Pr. Frank Johnson, another Hunger Ambassador put it, "we were able to string together the stories of organic farmers in Sebeka, the hungry and homeless at Peoples' Church in Bemidji, the youth volunteering at Calvary of Park Rapids, and the students in Wadena who were growing food for their own school lunches."
But the real power of The Hunger Ride comes in Frank's subsequent realization. "These are not independent efforts; they are people working together, who often do not even know that one another exist, but they have a common purpose. These are people concerned about eating and eating well."
Frank made a more sophisticated reflection than is possible here on his blog—check it out.
The Hunger Ride culminated with a day ride around Moorhead in anticipation of Synod Assembly. Riders stopped at congregations along the way for refreshment and to learn more generally about hunger issues and ELCA World Hunger as a response. Finally, those who were left, including the Hunger Ambassadors, rode their bikes right up to the stage at synod assembly to share some of the stories from the week prior.
The Hunger Ride brought with it a few lessons. First, it's fun and life-giving. Lisa Winter, another Hunger Ambassador, said "I feel like I received a special grace of the Holy Spirit on this ride." Second, it's hard to measure the impact of educating people. This isn't a new lesson, but the buzz around the entire event was contagious. While the goal was to raise awareness for hunger issues, build recognition for those responding in our communities and give people an opportunity to connect to those responses, the results of the offerings along the route are suggestive. By the end of the week, The Hunger Ride raised over $15,000 for hunger and poverty ministries, including ELCA World Hunger. Well, sort of. This total doesn't count one congregation, Calvary Lutheran Church in Perham, which used The Hunger Ride as the focus of its Lenten hunger fundraising. It's nearly impossible to attribute particular dollars to The Hunger Ride, but the bottom line is the same: another $13,000 for ELCA World Hunger.
And the final lesson is perhaps the most important of all. Will there be a Hunger Ride next year? Lisa said most eloquently what everyone agreed: "Absolutely!"