After eight-and-a-half years of raising money, Bethel Lutheran Church in Brush Prairie funded its “Millionth Meal” through its Million Meals donation program.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 7, the day the church holds its annual “Souper Bowl of Caring,” members raised over $1,200 for the program in just one hour, enough to send the amount needed for a “Million Meals” over the top.
“I kind of thought we would be able to make the mark in February, but I didn’t want to jinx it. So I quietly laid back and prayed a lot,” Bethel Lutheran Church Million Meals Outreach Ministry Director Nanci Keenan said. “When it finally came through that we had done it, I was like ‘Hallelujah, we did it.’”
The church began raising money for the Million Meals program in the fall of 2012 after a presentation at the church. The program was started by Lew Lardie first at his local church, Family of Christ in Vancouver, after he moved to Washington state from California. After beginning the program at his home church, he spoke to Bethel Lutheran Church, which decided to accept the challenge of “raising a million meals.”
Once a month following the start of the program, the church would hold a special offering for the Million Meals program. To help raise money for the program, the church handed out plastic cups with holes in the top for people to collect spare change around their homes to be donated. On donation day, noisy cups of change would go into the collection jar and straight to the church’s Million Meals fund. Despite the stoppage of in-person worship in April 2020, the church continued to raise money for the program digitally and once a month with drive-through donations.
“Every single penny we collected in that jar went into Million Meals,” Keenan said, mentioning that all funds raised on the church’s yearly celebration of “Souper Bowl Sunday” also went toward the program.
All the funds raised through the program went to the North County Community Food Bank to purchase food for distribution through the local food bank. In total, the church raised enough money for around 1,013,060 meals in the community. At a church with around 200 active members, that’s just over 5,000 meals per person.
“It is unbelievable, but that is what we do. That is what Bethel is all about,” Keenan said.
North County Community Food Bank volunteer John Idsinga said the church started the program first, then came to the food bank. While the local food bank doesn’t track “meals” exactly, Idsinga said all money raised through the church program went into a fund specifically used to purchase food and nothing else.
Idsinga explained that the food bank feeds anywhere between 625 and 650 local families every month, totalling about 75,000 pounds of food a month or 900,000 pounds a year. Idsinga said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many grocery stores have less food to hand out and the food bank is relying more on local donations of money and food from programs like Million Meals.
“We’re accepting donations every single day for both dollars and food,” he said. “A lot of times we can buy food at a less expensive cost.”
Those wanting to donate food or money to the bank can do so any time by stopping by and dropping off donations of food or donating online at nccfoodbank.org. All money and donations will go to creating “boxes'' of food containing milk, meat, cheeses and “everything else you could imagine,” Idsinga said.
As for the Million Meals program at Bethel Lutheran Church, Keenan said she didn’t know if the church was going to continue on to another million meals. However, she said the church plans to continue donating food in “one way or another.”
“I feel good when I can do what I can for others,” Keenan said. “I think we’re better people when we can help our neighbors.”
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