Hot Meal Ministry — An E-mail1

Karl and Dave,

I was gonna write something after I got home from yesterday's meeting, but felt it would be best to wait until I had "slept on it". This morning I am no less confused and distressed at some of the reactions I heard yesterday to OUMC's participation in Hot Meal Ministry and especially to our helping out by providing diapers and other baby products.2 I thought it might be worthwhile to provide you, and the Church Council, some background on the ministry and our connection to it. This is based on my files of articles, e-mails and other correspondence going back more than 8 years...

BEGINNING. Hot Meal Ministry was started in 1993 by Paula Todd3 at Orangethorpe Christian Church. She persuaded her pastor, Rev. Gayle Schoepf, to invite other churches in our neighborhood to join OCC in serving a meal every Monday night to anybody who might want it. This was done in spite of the strong objections of a lot of OCC members who were worried about "those people" coming into "our church", using the restrooms and putting a lot of wear and tear on "our" facilities. Sound familiar? Anyway, Gayle contacted Rev. Bob Rohdenburg, our pastor. Bob thought it sounded like a good idea but knew our budget couldn't handle fixing dinner for 50-100 people each month. He told me to see if there was enough interest at OUMC in participating in the ministry and whether our members would be willing to donate toward the cost of groceries. There was indeed a great interest and more than enough people pledged to contribute. We accepted Pastor Gayle's invitation. From that day on, ALL financial support for HMM has come from individual donations and never from OUMC's general budget.

GROWTH. After serving "66 guests, including 8 children" at OUMC's first dinner in September 1993, the numbers of diners at OUMC's regular 4th Monday meal grew until it regularly topped 200 by late 1995. Our food buyers -- Doug King, Ruth Needham, Delma Faux, Jeanette Carey, Barbara Johnson, and others -- worked hard to find the best possible buys so that we would never run out of food. More and more people saw what we were doing and added their own donations of money or food. Most of the food for our November dinners consisted of donated turkeys and pies.

MORE THAN JUST FOOD. Miraculously, by mid 1996, the OUMC account contained well over $1,000 in spite of increasing food costs. I was called before an "Ad Board" meeting to hear concern expressed over these unspent funds. I soon found ways to spend this surplus. As I explained in an article in the Church Family Scribe in August 1996:

"How are we able to supply diapers, formula and baby food for each baby? Originally, Paula Todd and a few friends at the Christian Church provided these items themselves. As the number of babies increased, they asked the other churches to help out. We have bought several cases of baby food when we've been able to do so. Paula also received donations of diapers from the Kimberly Clark Company. We will continue to help as much as we can, depending on your generosity."

The donations of diapers were proving to be too infrequent to keep up with the demand and eventually stopped coming in. OUMC stepped in to fill this gap. From August 1996 to the present, I mentioned the fact that OUMC was providing diapers, formula and baby food at least 13 times in Scribe or Net articles, Order of Worship inserts, or Charge Conference reports. There was never any questioning or criticism of this additional support of Hot Meal Ministry. OUMC members continued to donate enough money to meet all expenses and turned out to serve in increasing numbers, although occasionally there weren't enough helpers at clean-up time.

GRANTS. In 1998, the Cal-Pac Annual Conference set aside funds for what it called "Hunger Grants" to local churches who were addressing hunger issues. OUMC applied for, and received, grants for a total of $3,000 in 1998, 1999 and 2000. We also were given several large donations by a Cornerstone women's group and a $500 grant by Joe Manson's employer, Griswold Industries,4 around Christmas 2000. Griswold Industries is headed by a Christian businessman who donates to, and participates in, such causes as bringing medical care to remote areas in Latin America. All of our benefactors were informed that the funds they donated were being spent on a variety of items related to Hot Meal Ministry, including diapers.

Just as I was preparing an application for a fourth Hunger Grant in December 2001, we were astonished to learn from Joe Manson that Griswold had written checks for $5,000 each for Hot Meal Ministry and Orangethorpe Learning Center. I wrote to the Hunger Coordinator, thanking her for past support and hoping that she could find other United Methodist ministries which needed a Hunger Grant more than we did.

SHOPPING. From 1996 or 1997 on, Jeanette and I have been making regular shopping runs to buy baby supplies whenever Paula let us know she was running low. On several occasions, we purchased paper goods, plasticware and even socks to be handed out along with other donated clothing to HMM guests. Much as we enjoy helping out, these shopping trips consume a lot of our time. When the second Griswold grant was received, the idea occurred to me to see if the funds could be made available directly to the Christian Church so as to eliminate the middleman from the shopping, accounting and delivery process. Quentin Edwards presented my proposal at the February 2002 Finance Committee meeting.2

QUESTIONS. I was very surprised to discover that our providing diapers to HMM, as well as other aspects of that ministry, was a surprise or an issue to so many Church Council members. The questions which were asked yesterday reflected an ignorance of, and maybe even a hostility toward, Hot Meal Ministry. But although I don't remember now exactly who asked which questions, I got the impression that many of them came from people who neither participate in, nor support, HMM.

"Aren't they taking advantage of us?" Of course, a lot of the people whom we serve are "taking advantage"! I could certainly point out some of them to you. Those of us who actually serve the meals have been aware since day one that some of our guests waste their money on booze, drugs, cigarettes and maybe even chocolate. So what? If this were a federal government program, it would be spending thousands of dollars on paperwork, social workers, eligibility tests, etc. Paula once turned down support from a private organization which received federal funding and which would have forced her to record people's names and addresses and racial makeup!

An aside here on our guests "taking advantage" -- Most of the setup of tables is now done each week by Bob and Ed, two homeless guys who thought it'd really be fun to participate in that way. There are usually 2 or 3 guests who stick around at cleanup time to help us mop floors. In January, Silviana, who attends our Spanish language worship, started serving with us. She told me how grateful she was when she first came to Fullerton several years ago and was able to bring her family in for meals and to get diapers for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"Why not give them cloth diapers?" These people haven't diapered a baby in at least a generation!

"Isn't OCC doing enough to keep costs down?" Ask them! I know that Norm cajoles freebies out of every local business or organization possible -- free donuts, spaghetti sauce, bread, paper goods and anything else available. He once talked a truck driver who had a load of perishable food which had been shipped in error into dumping it into the OCC refrigerator instead of into a dumpster! These donations help a lot, but they come in irregularly and can't be relied on.

"Why doesn't OCC get the other churches to help?" Ask them! This is none of our business. I know that one of the members of Yorba Linda Presbyterian Church's service crew was donating several hundred dollars a month out his own pocket until his business ran into severe financial problems. OCC also used to receive grants from several other sources which have dried up. It is amazing to me that this small church, where average Sunday attendance is 40 or 50 people and average age of members is much higher than OUMC's, has been able to keep such a ministry going as long as it has.

CONCLUSIONS. It almost seems to me now that we would have been better off simply "passing the hat" each month when it came time to go grocery shopping. Those who wished to support the ministry would have still done so and there wouldn't have been any worry about explaining and justifying the program to others who don't support it, or don't understand it. In spite of my efforts to publicise HMM, it seems that many members who don't wish to participate in HMM also don't wish to read about it. I would guess that about a half of our congregation actually supports HMM either financially or by turning out to work on Monday nights. That has been sufficient to keep the ministry going for more than eight years however.

MORE QUESTIONS. I would suggest that any questions concerning the conduct of Hot Meal Ministry be posed directly to the people in charge -- Paula Todd and the Orangethorpe Christian Church. I can't speak for Paula, or OCC, other than to say that I support what they're doing and will continue to do so in any way I can.

Chuck Carey
March 2002

1 What you see above is an e-mail message which I transmitted the "morning after" a Church Council meeting to our pastor at the time, Rev. Karl Stuckenberg, and to the late Dave Johnson, who was the Church Council chairman. Both were always very supportive of HMM.
2 At the time this message was written, OUMC was buying diapers, baby food and other odds and ends which were distributed Monday nights. I was proposing that a portion of our funds be turned over to the Christian Church so that they could buy these things directly.
3 The Hot Meal Ministry founder, Paula Todd (1940-2004), suffered from severe health problems during the last years of her life. She had to undergo regular dialysis treatments. At the time this e-mail was written, Paula saved all her energies for Monday nights, when she came to HMM and greeted all those who served and who were being served with great enthusiasm. Her husband, Norm, continues to be an active participant.
4 As of 2012, Griswold continues to make large, regular donations to both Hot Meals and the Learning Center.

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