November 21, 2016

By Angie Olsen

As we have for 35 years, people from around the state joined together to worship at Festival of Sharing. Becky Matsiga read these words, “The darkness of hunger and poverty seeks to block the light of hope in people’s lives in Missouri and beyond.” In one voice all gathered responded, “The light cannot be overcome.” This encapsulates the focus of our entire year. Our theme “Share the Light,” speaks volumes. We hear the stories of need in the world, and we want to respond. We know people are experiencing darkness, and we believe the good news of Jesus Christ gives us the light of hope to share. We know the cooperative response of Festival of Sharing churches makes a difference in the lives of struggling people.
    
We shared the light through the continuation of traditions and also with the infusion of new opportunities. The Sharefest in Dexter (Southeast District) has been bringing people together to serve and share for over 20 years. They also coordinate the donations of the 38,000 pounds of rice  distributed through Festival statewide. The Cameron Sharefest (Northwest District) brought together churches, and Stephanie Wilson taught us about the Crossroads Correctional Center restorative justice program. These remarkable men cultivated hundreds of pounds of fresh produce for us to share. 
    
For the first time, we offered a Sharefest in Ferguson (St. Louis area). Youth from several churches gathered the night before for conversation about urban poverty and to dream about creating a better future.     
    
The next morning, we partnered with The Pack Shack to assemble 30,000 protein and vitamin packed meals. Volunteers from churches and local agencies as well as Ferguson residents sorted, packed and distributed resources to 11 St. Louis-area ministries. As we packed meals, Ferguson residents came by to see what we were doing and joined the effort. The sense of hope and camaraderie was tangible. “It was wonderful to see so many people packing food and filling trucks with supplies needed in St. Louis. There was a spirit of family and community in the air. Our youth had such a wonderful time that they all signed up for the Festival of Sharing the next weekend. Manchester UMC will be at both the Ferguson Sharefest and Festival of Sharing in 2017.” said, Rev. Paul “Nick” Nicholas, pastor of Youth Discipleship, Manchester UMC). 
    
There was also an incredible energy at Festival of Sharing event in Sedalia. More than 600 youth and youth sponsors participated in a mixer, a concert with Lee Roessler and an outstanding amount of work serving others. The youth unloaded and helped distribute 44,000 pounds of potatoes, 31,200 pounds of rice and 15,200 pounds of pinto beans and checked a record 783 backpacks of love for children in foster care and another record 2,600+ prison packs. Stop Hunger Now made it possible for the youth and youth leaders to pack 36,000 international meals. Heifer International (heifer.org) led a World Hunger Map experience for all the youth. First time bean packing leaders Susan and David Mason said, “If anyone wonders if future generations have a strong work ethic and a desire to help others, just come to Festival of Sharing. These youth are incredible.”
    
Donations from statewide churches are now helping 102 agencies make transformative differences in people’s lives.Thank you for your generosity. 
    
We need to particularly celebrate that 1,735 baby bundle packs, 2,623 readin’ & writin’ packs, 969 backpacks of love for foster children and 3,738+ prison packs were given in amounts significantly larger than 2015. 
    
The response to our plea for prison packs was so tremendous that we are not only giving them as gifts for the women of the Vandalia Correctional Facility (1,800), but we now have enough to share with the women of the Chillicothe Correctional Facility (1,600). 
    


 
Our support and partnership with Church World Service is still strong. The quilts were outstanding this year, and they raised $22,500 for the Blankets+ program. If you are interested in the quilt auction results visit, www.festivalofsharing.org/quilt-auction.html. We were also blown away by the number of volunteers ready to check Church World Service kits. These faithful servants checked 3,990 School Kits (large increase from 2015), 2,400 Health Kits, 90 Layette Kits (discontinued this year) and 259 Clean-up Buckets. The donations are now off to help meet the needs of Hurricane Matthew victims.
    
We have so much to celebrate and so much hope for our efforts in 2017. The increase in our efforts and the inflated cost of beans means we still need your help. Please consider donating online at www.festivalofsharing.org/donate or by mail to 3601 Amron Court, Columbia, Missouri, 65202. 
    
Thank you again for making 2016 an incredible year to celebrate our 35th anniversary. Keep Sharing the Light and mark your calendar for October 20-21st for the 2017 Festival of Sharing. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)