Potato drop gives delegates hands-on way to fight hunger

United Methodists who are meeting at General Conference know that just outside the walls of the convention center live some of the very issues they are trying to tackle: homelessness, hunger and hopelessness.

On April 29, bishops and delegates used their morning break to step outside their meetings and do something about those issues.

They stood shoulder to shoulder in the convention center’s loading zone and transferred 50-pound bags of potatoes from a tractor-trailer to a Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank truck. The shipment is expected to help feed 120,000 Pittsburgh-area residents.

The excess and slightly flawed potatoes were not considered "perfect enough" to sell in stores, but the Society of St. Andrew and the Commission on United Methodist Men arranged to have H. Smith Packing in Maine ship the potatoes to Pittsburgh, instead of throw them away. Other United Methodists participating in General Conference in Pittsburgh were asked to fast for one meal and donate money to help cover the shipping cost of the potatoes.

Bishop Donald Ott of Wisconsin was among those who helped transfer the heavy bags. Ott, who works on the Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty, says it’s important to address the issue of hunger with "hands and heads." He believes United Methodists should participate in the direct service of feeding the hungry, as well as exploring systemic issues, such as legislation that affects poverty in America. He wants his fellow bishops - and the whole church - to put on "a new set of glasses."

"Glasses that, when you put them on, enable you to see the poor and the marginalized and the children who always seem to get the short stick," Ott said.

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank serves 350 member agencies in the Pittsburgh area. Like most food banks across the country, it has seen the need for food assistance rise, while donations drop.

"It’s a constant struggle. We’re down to about a month’s supply, and that makes us a little nervous," said Anne Hawkins, chief development officer of the food bank.

The potato donation is appreciated, she said.

The Society of St. Andrew is a nationwide, ecumenical, nonprofit organization that salvages fresh produce that might otherwise be wasted and distributes it to agencies that feed the hungry. The Society of St. Andrew and the Commission on United Methodist Men have partnered in creating the Hunger Relief Advocate network, which has delivered more than 5 million pounds of food to the nation’s poor.

In every city where a General Conference is held, United Methodists schedule a way to serve the people of the host city. The conference is the denomination’s top legislative assembly, meeting every four years.

Riemland is a freelance producer and correspondent for United Methodist News Service.

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