Hunger is a chronic problem throughout Florida. In Pinellas County alone, studies have shown that roughly 15 percent of the population – totaling about 150,000 people – are classified as “food insecure.”
But on Sunday, March 8, four United Methodist churches in Pinellas will attempt to offer some relief.
Anona UMC, Palm Harbor UMC, Pasadena Community Church, and St. Paul UMC will hold a food-packing event as part of “Serve Pinellas.”
Each church plans to pack 25,000 meals – 100,000 overall – to be distributed to those most in need.
“Working with our United Methodist Church partners, we are addressing a critical need right here in our neighborhood—hunger,” Anona Co-Senior Pastor Richard Landon said. “Families need help to put food on the table, and we need to help fill that gap.”
The meals cost about $28,000 in total for the four churches. The money was raised through donations.
“Each church put in what they could afford to,” Evans said. “We were fortunate enough to have a donor who believes in this work and made up any shortfall.”
The work begins on the morning of March 6, when Meals of Hope will deliver ingredients to be packed. After training on the following day, the packing begins in earnest on Sunday.
The choice of Sunday for packing was deliberate. These churches hold multiple morning services, so doing the work on Sunday increases the likelihood that those who hadn’t yet signed up could see what’s happening and join in either before or after their service.
It will be done in an assembly-line style. Meals for Hope estimates that each volunteer can pack 30 bags per hour. That’s approximately 175 meals.
Each church will host its packing event at its physical location and is responsible for packing 25,000 meals. Each church then will donate the meals to a local food pantry, or their own.
Although many churches have food programs for those in need, this is believed to the largest combined outreach in the area.
“We met with several of the larger churches in the area to see if something could be done,” Anona Missions Director Jackie Evans said. “With all the division you hear about today with the Methodist Church, we tried to find something we could all agree on. A mission outreach seemed like the obvious choice.”
Planning for this undertaking began last fall. Palm Harbor planning coordinator Julie Sager said she expects perhaps 100 or more volunteers from her church to participate.
“There is a lot of excitement about this. And we already have plans for future opportunities,” Palm Harbor Associate Minister Rev. Cathy Hart said.
That includes a joint beach cleanup in April with the four churches. Each church will be responsible for cleaning a one-mile stretch of beach before coming back together for a bar-b-que.
“And next year,” Evans said, “potentially we would like to do even more.”