Charities unite in effort to abate global hunger

The philanthropic gathering will span not only the generations, but most of Wilton's faith institutions, from Christian to Jewish and Muslim. More than 400 volunteers of nearly every religious denomination, ranging in age from first graders to seniors, are expected to meet on Saturday, Oct. 27, at the WEPC0 church complex at 36 New Canaan Road — united in the common cause to provide food to needy children, both locally and globally, at the second annual Stop Hunger Now all-day outreach event.

"The organizer of the event is the Wilton Interfaith Action Committee, which means 'We Act Together for Good,'" said Steve Hudspeth, a member of the steering committee, representing St. Matthew's Episcopal Church. "Our goal is to package 100,000 highly nutritious meals in one day, up from 76,500 from last year."

Specifically, Mr. Hudspeth said, the aim is to provide meals for more than 250 malnourished children, "likely in Africa, but wherever the need is most pressing, for an entire year. These meals will be served in school settings where the children can learn as well as eat."

The faith institutions are working together to raise $26,000 to package the 100,000 meals, but so far are about $3,000 short of their goal, Mr. Hudspeth said. "Youth groups are working to help close the gap with bake sales" and similar events.

The international nonprofit Stop Hunger Now Inc. will provide materials, equipment and instructors for the packaging operation, Mr. Hudspeth said.

Similar events are conducted by Stop Hunger Now Inc. throughout the world. "They did a million-meal packaging event in Malaysia last year," Mr. Hudspeth said.

However, the Wilton event is the first in which a large group of faith institutions from one community joined forces for the cause, according to Mr. Hudspeth. "They and we are both excited that this 'Wilton model' may become one that is replicated by other communities with their own faith institutions — or in other settings where people from many different, and not necessarily otherwise intersecting, groups come together to do something very special for the greater good."

Mr. Hudspeth said 10 of Wilton's faith institutions are involved, and all 14 "have been invited to join in and are certainly welcome. The steering committee of the Wilton Interfaith Action Committee has two dozen members from its 10 member faith institutions. The 10 Wilton faith institutions are Our Lady of Fatima Church, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Temple B'nai Chaim, the Islamic Center, Wilton Baptist Church, Wilton Congregational Church, Wilton First Church of Christ, Scientist, Wilton Presbyterian Church, Wilton Society of Friends (Quaker), and Zion's Hill United Methodist Church."

The event is marked by a spirit of cooperation, according to Mr. Hudspeth. "We love working together — and especially on projects of this sort that have very visible impact and are really engaging to work on together," he said. "The energy on the packaging floor on the parish hall of the church complex is extraordinary, and kids from first graders on up to youth, their parents, and right through to our seniors are all working side by side. Even the youngest ones are helping out significantly as, for example, carrying filled meal packages from the ingredient-mixing work stations to the weighing, sealing and boxing lines."

According to Don Weber of Temple B'nai Chaim, who has been involved with the Wilton Interfaith Action Committee since its inception and serves as treasurer, "The sense of community and satisfaction with our small part in helping to feed some of the world's hungry children was evident in the enthusiasm of the volunteers from age 5 to 75."

Paul Breitenbach, a member of the steering committee for the event, who is a member of St. Matthew's, also described the spirit of cooperation between generations among the volunteers. "What is amazing about this event is the sheer number of children that adults are bringing," he said. "We now have more than 100 kids coming with their parents. The parents are using this event as a real-life, hands-on teaching tool together with their kids helping feed the hungry. I have gotten many emails from volunteers thankful for the opportunity to help teach their children an important lesson."

Last year, volunteers braved the "Halloween snowstorm" on Oct. 29 for the event, Mr. Hudspeth said. "Even as the heavy snows came down in that first serious snow and ice storm of the season, the volunteers kept streaming in right through the afternoon so that we not only met our goal of packaging enough meals to feed 200 children for a year, or 73,000 meals, but actually exceeded that goal and packaged 76,500 meals that day."

The meals are "consolidated and then delivered by Stop Hunger Now wherever the need is greatest around the world at the time the packaging work is done," Mr. Hudspeth said. "That usually means sub-Saharan Africa but can also include Haiti, portions of Central and South America and the Far East. The Wilton Interfaith Action Committee has the opportunity this year — since it will be packaging a full 100,000 meals — to designate the actual delivery destination from among those being supplied by Stop Hunger Now in the November-December time frame."

Acting locally, "each volunteer is also asked to bring to the event a nonperishable food item for our town food pantry to help those in need locally," Mr. Hudspeth said.

The Wilton Interfaith Action Committee was formed "as an outgrowth of the Wilton Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Committee. The earlier committee had a single purpose, to support a refugee family living in Wilton," Mr. Hudspeth said. This committee successfully assisted an Iraqi family to settle in Wilton.

"Members of our faith institutions in town enjoyed the process of working together so much that they decided to form an organization with a broader mandate," Mr. Hudspeth said.

The committee embarked on a search process that led them to Stop Hunger Now, which has a "top charity navigator rating and a global reach," he said.

The Stop Hunger Now Event "allows us an experience that all can share together on the same day, working side by side, and have a lot of fun as we do so," Mr. Hudspeth said. "It also can and does model for our children in truly hands-on fashion what it means to be a person of faith who tries one's best to live out that faith in action for the good for others wherever in the world they may be — in foreign lands as well as here at home. That message is definitely conveyed powerfully to those many children and youth who participate in this event."

For information about WI-ACT and the Stop Hunger Now event, contact a faith institution listed above or call 203-762-2846.