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Methodist churches make it their mission to fight world hunger

| Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Thanks to 94 volunteers from eight Methodist churches, almost 27,000 people across the globe will enjoy a healthy meal.

The meals were produced and packaged for distribution last weekend at New Beginnings United Methodist Church in Apollo. The volunteers, mostly from eight Armstrong County United Methodist churches, were supplied and overseen by the international nonprofit Stop Hunger Now, which provides food and aid to the world's most vulnerable populations.

The organizations came together in August after New Beginnings lay leader Royanne Brayshaw of Apollo participated in a Stop Hunger Now event at a United Methodist convention in Grove City. Having experienced their work firsthand, Brayshaw began recruiting members of her church and several others to get involved with the organization for a project of their own.

“As Christians, it's our duty to help the people who are most in need,” she said. “I was really inspired by Stop Hunger Now's mission. I wanted to bring its work home with a hands-on project that everyone could get involved in.”

In its 15 years of existence, the non-profit says Stop Hunger Now has coordinated the distribution of more than 122 million meals across 65 countries. In 2005, it began the meals packaging program, which allows volunteers to package thousands of meals in a few hours with an assembly line process.

At Saturday's event, 26,784 meals were packaged in less than two hours. The volunteers, according to Brayshaw, were separated into work stations with each group assigned different responsibilities. Most of the workers funneled the ingredients into the packages, which were then weighed, sealed and packed into boxes before Boy Scout Troop 589 members loaded them onto a truck.

“It was a great team experience,” Brayshaw said. “Everybody was really energized by what we were accomplishing. We've already agreed to meet in January to schedule another event, because this one was so gratifying.”

Where the meals will be delivered has yet to be determined. Once the packets were packaged and loaded, a Stop Hunger Now driver took the cargo back to the Philadelphia division, where the organization will determine its destination based on need and prior commitments.

Andrew Sullivan, the nonprofit's Philadelphia division director who oversaw Saturday's event, said the Philippines is a plausible destination. Stop Hunger Now has pledged a million meals to the Philippines as part of an ongoing disaster relief effort after Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the islands in early November, killing at least 10,000.

Brayshaw said she doesn't worry about where the meals end up, but looks forward to finding out in the coming weeks.

“As long as they're helping people that need it,” she said, “domestic or abroad, I don't care.”

Sullivan said each packet contains enough rice, vitamins, dehydrated vegetables and soy to feed up to six people and costs about 25 cents to produce.

The churches raised enough money to package and distribute about 4,460 meal packets. The money was raised in the months leading up to the event through pancake breakfasts, bake sales, dinners and freewill offerings.

“Everyone did their part,” Brayshaw said. “We even had one member of our church scrap a bunch of metal and donate the money that he made from it.”

New Beginnings Pastor Sharon Waltenbaugh views last Saturday's event as a prime example of “faith in action.” She said the partnership between Stop Hunger Now and New Beginnings bolsters opportunities to help the word's most famished and impoverished people.

“I think (Stop Hunger Now) is the embodiment of the Christian mission,” she said.

The meals packaged in Apollo on Saturday contributed to the 400,000 or so meals distributed through Stop Hunger Now from Western Pennsylvania this year.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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