East Ohio Conference Youth Changing the World One Meal at a Time

By Rick Wolcott*

“Today is about bringing the community together to work as one to accomplish an amazing goal of packing 75,000 meals,” said Brady Smith, assistant community engagement manager for Rise Against Hunger.

Youth in production line packing meals

For the fourth-consecutive year, East Ohio’s Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM) teamed with the international hunger relief organization to pack meals for those in need.  The youth and their adult leaders have now packed more than 325,000 dry meals of enriched rice, soy protein, dried vegetables, and 23 essential vitamins and nutrients.

“Project Feed is about delivering food to people across the world who don’t have it,” said Cyncere Donan, a CCYM senior high representative from Simpson UMC (North Coast District).

What started as a one-day project has, over the past three years, become a two-day event that attracts youth from across the Conference.  This year, 35,000 meals were packed at Newcomerstown West Elementary School in the Three Rivers District on Saturday, November 10.  The next day, more than 400 people filled adjoining gymnasiums at Wadsworth Middle School in the Canal District and packed an additional 40,000 meals.

Full view of youth packing meals

“Today is special,” said CCYM President Anna Wolfinger.  “It’s so exciting to see two gyms full of people coming together to pack meals to feed tens of thousands of people.  This shows that United Methodists care so much about the world, and we care about each individual person whether they are Christian or not.”

“It’s important to be here to help feed people and to make an impact on people that we don’t even know,” said Mia Bruner, a youth from Fields UMC (North Coast District) in North Ridgeville.

“It lets our youth group get outside of themselves and work with other youth – other Christians – from across the Conference who they don’t know,” Church of the Saviour UMC Director of Youth Ministries Curt Campbell said.

Wadsworth UMC Director of Student Ministries Tim Beck agreed.

“It’s a simple way for students to serve and to give back and to collaborate with other students to work together on a common goal – and it’s fun.  The kids look forward to this event.”

Smith oversees 92 packing events each year and said that Project Feed is one of his favorites.

“This is a unique event because it helps abroad with the meals that are packed, and it helps local food banks with the canned goods that are collected.”

He said that the final destination of this year’s meals won’t be known for six to eight weeks.  Last year’s Project Feed meals fed those in need in Swaziland, a country in Africa whose name was changed earlier this year to the Kingdom of eSwatini.

“I went to Liberia over the summer and I saw a lot of people who were so skinny because they didn’t have enough to eat, and it moved me a lot.  So any way that I can help with that kind of situation I will,” said Eli Costello, a youth from Faith UMC (Tuscarawas District) in North Canton.

“Project Feed is important because it gets our kids to recognize that this is a big world and it means that we’re connected in a lot of different ways that enable us to serve others,” said Bob Myers of Solon UMC.

“It’s important to teach our youth to think beyond themselves,” said Pastor Heather Runser of Coalburg UMC (Mahoning Valley District).

“I think it makes a difference that the youth are the people driving this event,” said EOC Director of Young People’s Ministries Kaye Wolfinger.  “This says to teenagers that they can make a difference, whether it’s in their own backyard or around the world.  They can have a part in ending hunger simply by giving two hours of their time.”

“We’re showing that not only can adults help others but youth can do it, too,” Donan shared.

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.