Joint Effort by Churches Provides 10,000 Meal Bags

FAIR OAKS, CA (MPG)  |  By Margaret Snider
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Amelia, 7, and other children helped out by running completed packages to the shipping table. Here she has just pounded the gong to signal another 1,000 packages finished. Amelia volunteered along with her father, Jason Utter, and grandma, Judy Utter, of St. Francis Episcopal Church.

FAIR OAKS, CA (MPG) - St. Francis Episcopal Church and Valley Redemptive Church worked together on Sunday, February 25 to prepare 10,000 meal bags. Each bag held a meal for six people to be shipped out to feed the hungry throughout the world.

St. Francis Episcopal is closing after 60 years at their Fair Oaks campus. Facing declining membership, the church has been leasing out parts of their facility to other organizations in an effort to keep up with costs. Mary Lee Pennington, a member of the St. Francis vestry, quoted Reverend Joe Duggan as saying, “When you announce you’re closing the church, the people get together and feed the hungry.”

Two and a half years ago Valley Redemptive Church became one of the lessees. “The significant story, really, is how an African American and a white congregation are working together . . . in the context of significant nationwide mistrust,” Duggan said. “What we’ve been able to accomplish over the last 2 ½ years is pretty extraordinary.”  The two pastors have worked as a team on such missions as hurricane and flood relief and the “heifer project,” a nonprofit providing livestock to struggling communities around the world.

Valley Redemptive Church moved to Fair Oaks as a central point for its members, who come from many areas of Greater Sacramento. “Most of our congregation traditionally is Baptist, including myself,” said Pastor Donnie Bryant. Bryant said that the relationship between Valley Redemptive and St. Francis has turned out to be a friendship. “If we want to see a better world, it’s got to start in the church in a joint effort to do things in the community,” Bryant said. “It was just cool.” 

The two groups have conducted monthly joint services and still meet together often. Individual member cross over to each other’s services occurs both ways, and the pastors often visit each other’s services, since the congregations meet at different times.

“One of the most segregated times in the United States is Sunday morning,” said Valley Redemptive minister of music Karen Massie Withrow. “We are here together; we might as well practice what we preach. We’re all taught that, but to really put it into action – that’s the thing that’s so great about working with St. Francis.” 

For the Rise Against Hunger project, both churches provided funding for food, boxing and shipping costs, which ran to about $1,500 for each congregation. The churches also provided the volunteers to put together the meal packages. Rise Against Hunger ambassador Jim Quinney, a St. Francis layman, and Rise Against Hunger representative Courtney Hudson were on site to organize and run the event. They arranged for the food to get to the project and the packed cases of meals to be taken to the shipping point.

Nearly a hundred people of all ages worked together to fill, seal and pack more than 10,000 bags, meeting their goal an hour and a half before the scheduled ending. After the completion of each thousand, the gong rang out to mark the accomplishment. Each bag contained vitamin packet, soy protein, dehydrated vegetables and rice - enough to feed six people.

Withrow said she hopes the two churches can work on projects together as long as possible. St. Francis is scheduled to close on Saturday, April 14, when there will be a combined service with joint choirs.

For more information about Rise Against Hunger contact Jim Quinney at 916-257-1635 or