By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories about local hunger heroes, people in our region who have taken action to help combat hunger in our community by partnering with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee in a variety of ways.
When Ethan Magness strode to the pulpit at First Christian Church in Johnson City on a Sunday morning back in February, he was a man on a mission.
By the end of the day, his mission had been accomplished – and then some.
For Magness, the Senior Minister at First Christian, charitable drives have always been a challenge. On one hand, giving his congregation the opportunity to bring food to church in support of organizations like the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee is a wonderful opportunity to turn the phrase “Love your neighbor as thyself” from words into action.
But too many times extended drives breed procrastination that stunts participation and leaves well-intentioned members of the congregation feeling guilty about the fact they forgot to run by the store and pick something up to bring back to church with them. In the days before Magness’ sermon on that fateful February morning, he heard a speaker at a conference share his own frustrations about extended drives.
His conclusion was that a one-day drive is a good way to spur immediate giving that doesn’t allow the time for good intentions going unfulfilled. That got Magness thinking, and the result was a one-day food drive nobody at First Christian will ever forget.
“I said, ‘Hey, let’s try and mix this up,’ ” Magness recalled. “We kind of talked the whole time about the lag between our intentions and our actions.”
At the end of the sermon, he issued a challenge for his congregation. Second Harvest was in need of a few simple food items – macaroni and cheese, breakfast cereal, soup and peanut butter – that would help feed hungry children in our region. So he challenged his congregation to head straight to the grocery stores before they went out to lunch to grab the items on the list and bring them back to the church.
The response was both immediate and staggering. While most drives at the church in support of Second Harvest net around 1,000 pounds of food over a longer period of time, this one-day drive flooded the entranceway of First Christian with 5,419 pounds of food. By the time the dust settled, the shelves at Target had been nearly emptied, and the closest Kroger’s and Food City to the church had taken quite a hit as well.
“I’d just say this way of doing a drive was more fun than any drive we’ve ever done as a church,” Magness said. “Normally drives are so spread out, they don’t have any of the kind of energy and joy of other kinds of service projects. This way of doing a drive was more fun than any drive we’ve ever done as a church.”
Kathy Smith, the community outreach director at First Christian, also attributed Second Harvest’s mission for the success of the food drive. Smith said the thought of local children battling hunger hit home with the congregation, and Second Harvest’s solid track record of good stewardship and effective service also compelled people to give.
“We’ve worked with Second Harvest for several years,” Smith said. “They do an excellent job of using every dime they can to see that it goes to the people that need it. They’re just a phenomenal organization that really cares and are the hands and feet of God in this area that help feed the hungry.”
Magness said he’s considering doing a one-day drive again in the fall and challenging other churches to join in on some friendly competition by possibly doing a pound-for-pound challenge. Once again, Second Harvest would be the beneficiary because it serves as the backbone for hundreds of other local food ministries.
“You sort of get the best of both worlds (with Second Harvest),” Magness said. “You get the efficiency of this large, regional organization, but then it’s actually executed at a very personal level. Helping Second Harvest is a way of helping every food ministry in eight counties.”
For more information on Second Harvest of East Tennessee, visit www.netfoodbank.org.