By Debbie Adams
The Mission Team at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church invited guests to a “Hunger Awareness Meal” on March 8 to raise awareness of hunger throughout the world and to provide funds for the international Rise Against Hunger campaign.
The guest speaker for the event was the Rev. Ray Buchanan, founder of Rise Against Hunger (formerly known as Stop Hunger Now) and co-founder of the Society of St. Andrew.
Guests were randomly assigned to tables in different blocked-off sections in the fellowship hall. Some discovered that they had gotten the best seats where they were served a dinner of chicken, macaroni and cheese, green beans, rolls, large cups of lemonade and tea, and brownies.
The less fortunate– “those people”– found themselves seated at tables where they received a “Rise Against Hunger” meal made from enriched rice, soy protein, and dried vegetables prepared with 20 essential vitamins and nutrients, with small cups of water to drink– what would be considered a bounty in many parts of the world.
Thankfully for those with Americanized appetites, the well fed shared their bounty with the rice consumers– all to illustrate a point.
Statistics show that one in seven Americans currently lives in poverty– 15 million of those are children; 821 million people around the world don’t get the food they need to live a healthy life.
Thrasher Pastor B. Failes introduced Buchanan, who “has dedicated his whole ministry to end hunger around the planet.” He first met Buchanan in the late ’80s when pastoring his first church in Natural Bridge. He discovered Buchanan had an aversion to church meals featuring potato bars as he had spent a great deal of time gleaning potatoes and other crops from fields and orchards to feed the needy. Buchanan founded the Society of St. Andrew in Big Island with the Rev. Ken Horne. That organization is now a global enterprise.
In 2019, over 20,000 volunteers for the Gleaning Network of the Society collected and distributed 13,025,551 pounds of fresh produce. They take their mandate from Deuteronomy 24:19: “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings.” (NRSV)
The Society of St. Andrew led to Stop Hunger Now, which was established in 1998 and rebranded in 2017 as Rise Against Hunger.
Buchanan opened his remarks by saying, “I love going to churches that care” like Thrasher and have a history of packaging meals for Rise Against Hunger which are distributed around the world. Each summer, children participating in Thrasher’s Camp Possible help package the meals of rice.
Last year Rise Against Hunger volunteers packaged 76 million servings of rice to help alleviate that suffering.
“It is reflective of the world we live in that we have so much in our country we can’t imagine how to use it all,” said Buchanan. “However, the vast majority of the world lives in a constant state of hunger.”
Buchanan emphasized the impact of hunger on education. He noted that teachers and administrators in Third World countries have told him that without the rice meals, “kids don’t come to school. If they don’t come to school, they receive no education. No education means no future for the countries involved. Kids in those countries come to school to eat.”
He shared the story of a school in Uganda that experienced quadrupled attendance after it started receiving the packaged meals. The principal said that in the beginning, the students were “like feral animals” and would eat so much they would become ill, steal from the child next to them, hide the rice in their clothing– not knowing that they would be able to eat again at school the next day. Children had often been forced to scavenge for food in dumps or sell their bodies for food.
The administrator reported that after two weeks, the students began to realize that if they attended school, they would be able to eat regularly, “school equaled food.” In about six weeks, once they felt food secure, they turned their attention to learning and began to absorb their lessons. The food made such a difference that it was noticeable in just their skin, which became much more supple and less dry with the vitamins that were included in preparing the rice.
The principal also said that, amazingly, little girls began braiding their hair again after two or three months— because it no longer broke off in the braiding as it had when they were malnourished. The braids led to increased self-esteem.
“The meals have an impact you won’t believe” was the message from the schools. They noted that for 90 percent of the students, that meal at school would be their only meal of the day. Families made sure their children were in school so they could eat; enrollment increased dramatically.
Notably the number of girls attending school increased the most. In most parts of the world, it is too costly for girls to attend school. They are kept at home to do chores and watch siblings.
“As a United Methodist minister, I believe in miracles,” said Buchanan. “If girls learn basic literacy, the birth rate drops from over eight children per woman to under three per woman, which extends their lives and improves their health.”
Buchanan noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) lists maternal health as one of the major health issues in the world, along with infant mortality. When properly nourished, children are larger, heavier, and healthier and the infant mortality rate drops.
So the meals program leads to better health for women and children, increased levels of education, and breaks the cycle of poverty.
“When you educate a man, you educate a man,” said Buchanan. “When you educate a girl, you educate a community– it has a multiplier effect.
“Every meal you pack will help change the world,” Buchanan said.
In 1979, Buchanan and Horne had a vision of a world without hunger and for that to occur within their lifetimes. Each day 18,000 to 20,000 people around the world die because of hunger. Chronic hunger permeates the everyday lives of millions. They never get enough to eat, especially enough protein. Malnutrition is the single largest contributor to disease in the world. Hunger is the underlying condition for succumbing to many diseases such as the measles or malaria. Being malnourished amounts to a death sentence for masses of people.
Buchanan talked of his journey from co-founding the Society of St. Andrew to the founding of Rise Against Hunger– an evolution from a national movement to an international one. The WHO says hunger can be eliminated on the planet by 2030.
“As Christians we need to do this,” Buchanan said in conclusion. “Our generation can change the world.”
For more information visit https://www.riseagainsthunger.org/.