Thanksgiving Blessings and Hope

Story of the text which led to Thanksgiving meal shared each year…

“I believe we can end hunger in Maine,” said Kristin Miele, Director of Good Shepherd Food Bank, said our own Sara Bloom who worked tirelessly with others to create a new source of funding to alleviate hunger on the Maine tax return, said Justin Alford, Co-founder of Full Plates, Full Potential which seeks to eliminate childhood hunger in Maine.  These are the voices of hope and of action in our state.  They resound along with voices across our country who are working to make those words a reality, voices like that of Navyn Salem, founder of an organization called Edesia that manufactures and distributes the life-saving food packet called Plumpy Nut who said, “I truly believe that we can end hunger and malnutrition (in the world). “ As we look ahead to our own meal preparations for Thanksgiving, we cannot forget that others are indeed hungry this day in our community and in too many places in our world.  At the same time, there are countless regular folks who are doing their part each and every day to provide one of the most basic needs, food, to others who are hungry.  As people of faith, we may count the amazing blessings of our own lives while also being mindful and doing all we can to provide food to others in need.  Let us pray, O Gracious One, we pause today to thank you for the blessings of our lives, for the privileges we share, for the gifts we have received, and we ask that you help us to be ever-mindful of our brothers and sisters who are in need of food and shelter, of clean water and health care.  Help us to join with all who seek to build your reign of justice and love here on earth.  Amen.

   In Matthew’s Gospel reading today, we hear Jesus saying, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  He goes on to explain how precious we all are in God’s eyes.  It’s a lovely passage, but I have often thought that it is, in fact, a privilege, to not have to worry about what you will eat or drink.  For those of us who have traveled to places where children suffer from malnutrition, who have seen children who seem far younger than they are because they have what is called ‘failure to thrive’ due to their lack of adequate and consistent nutrition, it is impossible not to worry on their behalf.  If you’ve ever known true and long-term hunger, it is impossible to think about anything else until those needs are met. For far too many people, it is a daily and chronic worry.

Some of you may recall the Panel Discussion that was held at our church back in June 2018, titled Ending Hunger in Maine–Creative Solutions. The panel included some wonderful Maine based speakers who shared their own work in helping to alleviate hunger and food insecurity in our state.  Following that gathering, our own members, Sara Bloom and Sandy Ragan began to meet with a number of individuals connected to state government with the hope of introducing legislation to help fund such efforts.  Eventually, they met with Representative Maureen Terry who submitted a bill in December 2020 to the Maine legislature.  Terry drafted the bill so that the distribution of all funds raised would be administrated by the state’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, with applicants (that is, any non-profit that is actively working to meet the needs of our food insecure citizens, from the Good Shepherd Food Bank and Seeds of Hope to the tiniest church or food pantry in the most remote corner of Maine that is not on a distribution network) applying directly to their Emergency Food Assistance program.  In April 2021, the bill passed through committee unanimously and was then passed by both the House and Senate without debate, and  signed into law by Governor Mills last July 19, 2021. 

Sara Bloom had conducted research to establish a financial goal to end hunger in the state of Maine.  Funds raised through a check off box on the Maine tax form could help to meet the gap between the present outreach by many organizations to address hunger and the real amount needed to in fact help to eradicate the problem.   We are grateful for her inspired efforts and tireless work and we pray that this will truly help to fund the needs of our brothers and sisters across our beautiful state. 

I recently saw a beautiful story of another woman who has worked creatively and tirelessly to address the needs of those who live with extreme poverty and thus experience extreme hunger. In a recent article on her efforts, we read, “Navyn Salem didn’t have experience in building factories or food distribution when she started a non-profit, Edesia, and created the first U.S. factory to produce a life-saving packet called Plumpy’Nut, a therapeutic peanut butter paste used to feed starving children around the world.  But she had the memories of seeing children dying from hunger on a trip to her father’s birthplace of Tanzania — and the belief she could do something to help.

“There is no way you can forget what you’ve seen,” she said. Although she had three children under age 5 at the time, she thought, “This couldn’t wait. …I need to be there now because we have children’s lives at risk.”  She  has spent the past dozen years improving the lives of millions of children under 5 with acute malnutrition around the world.  She said she had  “no experience at all” when she decided to create the factory to package and ship Plumpy’Nut.  Salem explained that each of the boxes filled with Plumpy’Nut “represents basically breakfast, lunch and dinner for two months.” For a child suffering from acute malnutrition, that box can be life-saving.  “That takes a child from not being able to walk or hold up their own head — it gives them the energy to smile, to laugh and be kids.”

Plumpy’Nut is packed with calories and vitamins to restore the health of children under 5. The special thing about it is that unlike milk or formula, it doesn’t need to be mixed with clean water or refrigerated, which makes it much easier to deliver to children in places where such luxuries don’t exist.

When she first heard about the invention on the news  and learned that there wasn’t enough, Salem reached out to Plumpy’Nut’s French investors.  She recalled, “After they hung up on me a couple of times, I ended up flying to Paris and introducing myself in person and right then and there, we decided that we were going to be partners. And we’ve been partners ever since.”

Now her non-profit,  Edesia, which was named after the Roman goddess of food, works with the United Nations’ World Food Programme, the USDA, UNICEF and many others.  “I truly believe that we can end hunger and malnutrition,” said Salem.

Edesia employs 110 people, many of them refugees originating from 25 different countries.  Many of them have had their own experiences of hunger and struggle.  Andrew Kamara, who works in Edesia’s Providence, Rhode Island was born and raised in Sierra Leone.  “I always approach my job as a mission to save lives,” he explained. “When there’s a shipment going out to Sierra Leone, if I have a chance to catch it before it leaves the door, I would send it with a message saying, ‘It’s your brother from the other side.’” Recently, the group  hit a major milestone: 15 million boxes of Plumpy’Nut produced.

The woman who had to act, Navyn Salem said the number represents “15 million people who have the power to go to school, to be educated, who knows what they’ll be able to do in their lives.”  (Nov. 12, 2021, 8:06 AM EST / Source: TODAY By Ariana Brockington) As I reflect more deeply on the passage from Matthew today, I imagine that perhaps Jesus was providing a vision of the Kingdom, that he was inviting all of us who have listened to his word to create a world where in fact people no longer need to worry whether they will have enough food or drink each day.  I am immensely grateful for the visionaries who keep working to make such dreams a reality. These are stories of hope; these are stories of people who had a dream of helping to alleviate hunger and then acted upon it.  It is altogether possible if we choose to do it.  There is enough food in our world and if we demanded that it receive the highest levels of priority, it is possible.  With God all things are possible.