National Lutheran News

West Des Moines, Iowa, Lutherans sending 1.6 million meals to Haiti

A Lutheran congregation in West Des Moines, Iowa, gave itself a whopper of a challenge this spring: provide one million meals to hungry people.

When the campaign was over, members of Lutheran Church of Hope, an ELCA congregation in a suburb adjacent to Iowa’s capital city, were well on the way to doubling their goal. They collected nearly 1.6 million meals to send to Haiti and distributed an additional 66,000 in the Des Moines area.
The Haiti-bound sustenance are expected to arrive in the island nation in June.

The project was intended to give some focus to the congregation’s Lenten observance. Said church member Deb Gawlik, “It was crazy — a good crazy.” She told the ELCA News service she believed people got involved because “it’s the power of doing something for somebody else.”

More than two-thirds of the congregation’s 6,700 members volunteered in the effort. Most volunteers measured out portions of rice, soy, dried vegetables and protein in pre-labeled plastic bags intended for Haiti.

Others collected and distributed 3,000 bags of groceries, containing 54,000 meals, to local destinations.

A third group prepared and hand-delivered more than 12,000 sandwich lunches to homeless people living under bridges, underpasses and in camps by the Des Moines River.

One member who helped with the deliveries to homeless people was Nancy Armstrong, a retired school teacher. She admitted being worried about imposing on the dignity and feelings of people living under bridges.

But when she went to the river camps on a cold March day, she said, “I thought, ‘How cold these people must be.’” She said that she discovered, among those whom she met, there were “a lot of wonderful people.”

Armstrong’s husband Jerry helped with the distribution. He said that, as they distributed sandwiches, the volunteers asked if they could pray for the recipients. One of the homeless men told him, “You guys don’t understand how thankful we are. What you’re doing is what Christianity is about.”

Now, Armstrong says, “As I drive down the street, I look for places where people might be living. You don’t have to cure the whole thing, but you do a little bit in your little corner.”

The Rev. Patrick K. Quaid, the congregation’s care and missions pastor, said of the members of his affluent congregation, “It was an amazing experience to be one body.”
For the Haiti effort, the congregation partnered with Max Holmes, a member and owner of a local car dealership. He founded a local branch of Kids Against Hunger, a Minnesota-based effort to package and distribute food internationally to communities that lack food.

Holmes provided a storehouse for supplies and where assembly could take place seven days a week. The food was boxed and transported to Minnesota on pallets, where it will be loaded into four shipping containers and sent to Haiti.

The congregation also partners with homeless shelters, the YMCA, YWCA, Meals on Wheels and schools to provide meals to those in need. The parish also contributes to the ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal.