There’s More Than 1 Way to Feed the Hungry

Refuge Student Ministries’ annual Heart for the Valley service project is quickly approaching. This event provides an invitation to FCC attendees to donate money to provide meal boxes for local families in need. But instead of just raising money and giving it to a food charity, Heart for the Valley takes it a step further as the teenagers of FCC do the heavy lifting. Literally! 

Every year the middle and high school students who attend The Refuge at FCC purchase, pack, and deliver meal boxes to families all around Hudson and surrounding communities. An assembly line of sorts is created in The Refuge room. Teenagers carry in empty boxes and bags of food and get to work alongside their peers, packing the boxes. Then they haul it all outside to help load into the vehicles of families who to stop by to pick up their food.

Heart for the Valley is a great opportunity for our teens to not only do something that serves the people in their community, but also helps them connect with one another. There is certainly something to be said for the benefits teenagers get when they work together, side-by-side.

A few years ago, I was home on a dark, cold, winter evening and my doorbell rang. I was surprised to open the door to a couple of teenagers (not from Heart for the Valley) standing on my front step, with about six or seven more standing behind them on the sidewalk leading up to my door. Despite the biting, cold wind, there were smiles accompanying their red noses and cheeks. They were canvasing my neighborhood, asking for food donations for the local food pantry. 

I would say that even though the weather conditions weren’t ideal, they were still having fun. Because they were together. Because they were helping others. Because they were DOING something to be part of the solution to an ever-growing problem of hunger in our area. You could see the delight on their faces, hear it in their voices and laughter, and see it as they literally bounced up and down to keep warm. 

I was thanked profusely for a few cans of food I wouldn’t even miss. The teens then turned around to joyfully bound down the sidewalk to the next house. Yep, those teens were definitely having fun together. It was doing their hearts some good to put down their phones, maybe get out of their comfort zones, interact with strangers, and do an activity that would benefit someone else. 

About twenty years ago I was a volunteer youth group leader for a church in the Twin Cities for a few years. The youth group closely resembled the demographic of the students that attend The Refuge – middle class, lived in the suburbs, attended good schools, most of them white, most of them had a father active in their life. Because of where they lived, they didn’t have a lot of societal trials to overcome. 

One summer we loaded up two large vans and drove about 20 or so kids from Minnesota to rural Mississippi to do some mission work in a very small town – population 300. I don’t remember, but I don’t think this tiny town had one blacktopped road. There wasn’t one sidewalk. A lot of the buildings and houses were quite run-down. It was an extremely poverty-stricken area with the tiniest library I’ve ever seen. The only place to buy any groceries in town was the convenience store. I didn’t see one white resident in the week we stayed there.

I recently looked up information online and in 2021 the average household income of that community is $22,000 and has a poverty rate of 71%.

I will never forget how quiet the van got when our group of middle-class, mostly white teenagers rolled into the community. I could see the students’ mouths hanging open. We weren’t in their suburban bubble any longer. I think it was a bit of a culture shock for them. It was hard for even me, an adult in my mid-20s at the time, to reconcile that communities like this one existed in our country.

But once they got past the reality of where they would be for the week, those teenagers got to work. They loved up on the local children that came to the week-long vacation Bible school. They happily painted houses for hours in the southern mid-day sun. They chatted with the elderly homeowners where we worked. There was no grumbling, even though many were sleeping on air mattresses in a big open room with a tiny window air-conditioner. It was Mississippi in June. So…hot. These teens were pushed out of their comfort zone and rose to the occasion, as teens often do. 

There is a certain comradery that naturally occurs when teenagers work together for the good of others, take the focus off themselves for a while, and roll up their sleeves to pitch in. Whether it’s serving for a week in a place so different from home, canvasing neighborhoods to ask for donations, or putting meal boxes together for local families in need, many times teens feel blessed when helping. That’s the great thing about putting God’s love into action. Oftentimes the giver is just as blessed as the receiver. 

So even though Heart for the Valley feeds hungry families, it also fills teens who may be hungry for connection with peers, hungry for serving a purpose, and hungry for being a part of something bigger than themselves. They may find themselves satisfied and full of God’s blessings.

If you would like to be a part of Heart for the Valley and wish to donate, any amount helps. A $60 donation packs about two meal boxes, but there’s no minimum donation amount. So, if a $60 donation is out of reach for you, but you can swing $15 or $20, please still give. Every amount helps to help hungry neighbors. You can give now through November 30:

Melissa Meyer