Lutherans Take a Stand on Childhood Hunger
A paper plate is typically good only for holding a grilled hot dog or a hamburger at a summer barbeque.
For members of Tree of Life Lutheran Church, Harrisburg, Pa., however, a paper plate became a conduit for a powerful message against childhood hunger.
As part of this congregation's special series called “Our Daily Bread,” children decorated paper plates and wrote messages such as "Kids need food” and “Let kids eat food for free” and “No kid should be hungry.”
The series was the brainchild of Richard Geib, pastor of Tree of Life. And he found a willing lay leader in Jennifer Crist, whose participation in the project came out of her very personal experience with childhood hunger.
In 2008, Jennifer and her husband, George, adopted twins, Natalie and Tabitha, from Ethiopia. The children were malnourished when they arrived at their new home in Harrisburg.
With proper nutrition, and lavish doses of love, the children grew through four clothing sizes in just one year.
During that year, Jennifer and her family attended an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Global Mission Event in Camp Hill, Pa., where she began to wonder how she might have an impact on the issue that hit so close to her home for her.
So, at her pastor’s request, she eagerly dove into organizing and leading “Our Daily Bread” with the Rev. Amy E. Reumann, director of Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania.
Adults participated in facilitated discussions about the link between poverty and hunger and wrote letters to their state representatives.
Sunday School children expressed their hopes to end hunger by writing on and decorating paper plates.
“The amazing part of the series for me was [watching the children decorate] their paper plates,” Pastor Amy says.
“They understood immediately that all children need to have enough to eat, and they got right down to work.”
Jennifer echoes Amy's words.
“My greatest concern is that adults feel the problem is too big and that they cannot make a difference,” she says. “I specifically mention adults because, if you talk to children about hunger and poverty, they are moved to compassion and action right away.
“I hope to change this perception by finding tangible ways for adults to work toward eliminating hunger and poverty, while empowering children to carry out their ideas. We need to use our God-given gifts to improve the health of children in our global communities.”
Delivering a Message for Change
Once completed, the letters and paper plates were blessed during Sunday worship.
The letters were mailed to Pennsylvania state representatives, while the decorated plates were hand-delivered to U.S. Congressman Tim Holden (D-PA) in Washington, D.C.
Jennifer would like to make “Our Daily Bread” a yearly series at her congregation.
“I will also continue to speak to groups of adults and children and to offer opportunities and encouragement to them as they act to address childhood nutrition, hunger, and poverty issues,” she says.
“Our Daily Bread” has already made a difference, says Robert Francis, ELCA director for domestic policy, who delivered the plates to Congressman Holden during a meeting in the representative's Washington, D.C., office.
"Having that tangible evidence of voices in a member's district or state means everything,” Robert explains.
“At the end of the day, members of Congress are most responsive to their constituents, so they'll say, 'I agree with the policy, but what do the people in my district think?' Lutherans should know how powerful even a relatively small number of calls, e-mails, or letters can be!”
For Jennifer, advocacy also feeds her faith.
“I have often been humbled by my little faith when witnessing the great faith of many who live in poverty and hunger,” she says.
“This inspires me even more to do and to encourage others to be the body of Christ that we are called to be in our own special ways.”