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In Feed the Bay on Sunday, 800 Christians will shop to replenish food banks

So someone e-mailed a joke the other day about a conversation between an old, wrinkled $20 bill and an equally weathered $1 bill.

Both bills arrived at the Federal Reserve ready to be retired, and the $20 bill told the $1 bill about how it had circulated to fabulous places like Las Vegas, Atlantic City and New York.

The $1 bill countered that it had gone from the Methodist church to the Baptist church to the Lutheran church.

The $20 bill interrupted and asked, "What's a church?"

Hey, far be it from me to call into question how much anyone gives. In these difficult times we have to hope people give what they can and salute those who go above and beyond.

The interdenominational Feed the Bay comprises just such an effort.

On Sunday, nearly 800 members from 25 congregations will descend upon 19 Publix and Sweetbay stores armed with grocery lists and big hearts to buy goods for local food banks.

"It comes in waves depending on when the different churches let out," said Janine Skinner, a volunteer who has overseen past efforts at the Sweetbay at U.S. 301 and Big Bend Road. "You see families with kids, and you see groups of people."

Sometimes random shoppers join the volunteers, buying groceries or gift cards. The food is stored on trucks that will deliver the goods to one of 12 agencies and fully stock their shelves.

It won't matter that the volunteers come from Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal and Presbyterian churches. It won't matter that some will donate food, some will donate gift cards and some will donate the only assets they have: time and energy.

For one day, they're all in the Feed the Bay army, striving to be what event coordinator Melanie Langston calls "the hands and feet of Christ."

Langston battles the perception that it's an effort solely about providing meals for the panhandler on the street corner. Participating agencies say that the majority of the families they serve have at least one working adult.

"It's not a homeless issue, it's a hunger issue," Langston said. "We get so busy with our own lives … but as followers of Christ, we need to realize it's not a 'them' problem, it's an 'us' problem.

"We need to join with them and take it on as an 'our' problem."

• • •

That's the exact perspective that inspired Bay Life's pastor, Mark Saunders, when he brought this concept to his church in 2006. Saunders said you can only preach so much about being generous and being part of the community before you challenge members to carry it out.

So at the end of a service, he sent out members to the nearby Publix and Sweetbay on Kingsway Road to buy specific provisions.

"We told the store managers we were coming, but I don't think they took us seriously," Saunders said. "When we went into those stores, it kind of freaked the store managers out. It was pretty cool."

Now the two grocery chains are full partners, and 25 Advanced Auto Parts stores in the bay area collected food donations leading up to Sunday.

From that initial effort, Feed the Bay grew to include other churches as they focused on what they have in common instead of what divides them.

"Together, we can do more" became an unofficial motto for the annual effort. It has bonded the ministers from different churches, and it has bonded members. Skinner, participating for the fourth consecutive year, noted that she has developed a friendly relationship with people from other churches and the employees at Sweetbay.

As a nanny, she said, her biggest reward comes from answering God's call and knowing that a child won't go hungry for a night, a week or maybe even a month because of her efforts.

Overall, more than 40 churches have participated in at least one Feed the Bay initiative since 2007, and in that time, it has collected more than 700,000 pounds of food and necessities.

Langston said they would like to expand the effort to include Pasco and Pinellas counties.

"I heard someone say once that if church did what church was supposed to do, we would have no need for the government programs that provide for people," Saunders said. "I believe that's true. Some churches do great at preaching Gospel but stay behind their four walls. Some churches that have an impact on the culture don't preach Gospel.

"We want to be the churches that do both. We want to preach and live out our faith, but we also understand that Jesus had a lot to say about the poor and we want to live out those things."

In the end, the $20 bill could find a home with Feed the Bay, but so too could the $1 bill. If one person gives one can, the goal has been achieved.

That's all I'm saying.

.Fast facts

To help

To volunteer or donate to Feed the Bay, go to feedthebay.org.

In Feed the Bay on Sunday, 800 Christians will shop to replenish food banks 03/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:50pm]

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