The Hope Lenten and Advent projects, which have raised many millions of dollars, were inaugurated in 2007 quite unexpectantly. A service organization named “Kids Against Hunger” invited Hope to partner in an effort to feed hungry children in the impoverished nation of Haiti. The U.S. military was offering to transport the food to the island at no cost.
Hope, not surprisingly, decided to go big. A seemingly impossible goal was set: one million meals in just 40 days. What is impossible for us is certainly possible for God.
Several initiatives were launched. All worshipers at Hope during Lent were asked to take an empty grocery bag (7,000 were available), fill it up at a local grocery store, and bring it back. This food was then immediately distributed to ministries such as Catholic Charities, Hope Ministries and Bidwell Riverside.
At the same time, Hope brought in a temporary “storehouse” on the West Des Moines campus—in actuality, a 53-foot semi-trailer with windows, heat, and light. A storehouse is an important biblical idea to feed the hungry, in fact, it is written in Malachi 3:10, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house,” says the Lord.
Hundreds of volunteers prepared soup and sandwiches for people in the greater Des Moines area, during the 40 days more than 28,000 meals were provided.
What prompted Kids Against Hunger was a recent breakthrough by Cargill and other food producers creating a basic meal consisting of rice, soybeans, and 21 essential vitamins; all it took was assembly and delivery. The Hope goal was to fill 4,500 large boxes with 216 meals each. Since each box cost about $33 for the food, people were encouraged to donate one or more boxes of food. This raised many thousands of dollars as well.
The “Feeding A Million” campaign pushed right through the one million mark and kept on growing. By Easter Sunday, more than 1.6 million meals had been packaged.
Most importantly, a new vision for Lent emerged. Instead of consisting of a worship service and some scattered attempts to give up something for Lent, now it became a sacred time when the entire congregation generated overwhelming generosity to help the poorest of the poor.
All of these Lenten and Advent projects are predicated on the Great Commandment found in Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 10. Jesus is asked to define what is the greatest commandment in the law. He answers, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and strength and mind. A second is like this, “love your neighbor as yourself.”
By 2008, Feeding A Million had morphed into “Meals from the Heartland,” a community-wide effort involving many churches, businesses and civic organizations. Since 2008, the Hope-inspired ministry has donated more than 100 million meals to nations such as El Salvador, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, and Nicaragua.
The 2021 Lenten Project picked up the theme of again feeding more than 20,000 people in El Salvador for a year. Once again Lutheran Church of Hope went big, more than $600,000 was raised. Praise God!