Hunger ministry finds growing need hard to meet

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3/31/2003 By United Methodist News Service

The Society of St. Andrew hunger relief organization looks back on 2002 as a qualified success.

Like most charities, the Society of St. Andrew experienced a decline in revenue, but the ministry had its third-best year in two decades of getting food into the hands of hungry people.

Cash donations dropped in 2002 from almost $2 million in 2001 to a little more than $1.8 million. This reduced the amount of produce the society could ship from the fields to where the food was needed. In addition, drought in some areas of the United States meant smaller or no yields from some of the regular producer-donors.

However, the society found more farmer-food providers, so the highest number of this type of contributor - 567 - was reached in 2002. More volunteers - 43,292 - also participated in the food reclamation projects than ever before. That number is 7,789, or 22 percent, greater than in 2001, the previous record year.

During 2002, food was also distributed to 4,084 receiving agencies, such as food banks and soup kitchens - more than ever before.

In the first two months of 2003, the society saved about 3.1 million pounds of fresh produce, but this was down 44 percent from the same period last year.

Headquartered in Big Island, Va., the Society of St. Andrew uses the biblical practice of gleaning as a means of feeding hungry people. Thousands of volunteers do the work, gathering food that otherwise would be discarded.

Founded in 1979 by two United Methodist ministers and their families, the society began gleaning in 1983. Its well-known Potato Project has been widely supported by United Methodist Men.

During 2002, the project salvaged about 14.5 million pounds of potatoes for America's hungry. This was about 11.9 million pounds less than the previous year, a decrease largely due to shipping limits imposed by the financial shortfall.

Already in January and February this year, the society has processed 1.85 million pounds of potatoes, or more than 5.5 million servings, but that is a decline of 30 percent from the same period last year.

During 2002, society volunteers helped save more than 31.9 million pounds of food, providing 95.8 million servings at a cost of about 1 cent per serving. Packaging and delivery account for most of the expense. The charity's overhead, at about 4.4 percent, is one of the lowest of any nonprofit.

Since the society began organizing gleaning events, it has saved and delivered 412.2 million pounds of food throughout the 48 contiguous states. It now has 34 satellite gleaning networks in New England and 16 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

"During 2002, food was scarce because of ongoing drought in many areas where Society of St. Andrew gleans," observed the Rev. Ken Horne, executive director of the society. "And like most nonprofits nationwide, we ended the year with a funding shortfall due to the sluggish economy. But we continued to provide food for 'the least of these' through the worst months of the long winter just passed."

He noted that 2003 holds many challenges. "But no matter how difficult things get for us, they will be infinitely worse for the poor," he said. "For this reason, we must persevere in the face of our adversities and never give up the vision of a world without hunger."

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