At the loading docks behind the Wegmans in Patton Township, 400 pounds of bread sits atop a worn wooden pallet beneath a sign that reads “Donations.”
At first, 400 pounds was a daunting amount, but now it is routine. We quickly divvy up the boxes of loaves, bagels and muffins and scoot out of the way of the delivery trucks. Kevin will load a hundred pounds into his car for the food pantries and youth centers in Penns Valley. I will take a couple hundred to Bellefonte and Philipsburg. And Fred and Naomi will deliver the rest to a school for the blind in Altoona. Fred and Naomi were here long before Kevin and I started showing up — they have been collecting the leftover bread from Wegmans every Tuesday for the past 10 years.
As co-founders of the Food Reclamation Network of Centre County, Kevin and I just started in April. Since we started building the Food Reclamation Network at the beginning of 2015, we have together reclaimed around 4,000 pounds of healthy, nutritious food that would otherwise be wasted. We glean from gardens, grocery stores and farmers markets, distributing the food we collect to relief organizations all over the county, including food pantries, youth havens and emergency housing shelters.
The Food Reclamation Network involves a group of volunteers with very diverse backgrounds and perspectives: Among us are atheists, Christians, Muslims, and pagans; queer folk, environmentalists, liberals and anarchists. Though everyone is different, their motivations are similar: to improve, to help, to fill a need.
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My own background is Christian, and this is simultaneously integral and irrelevant to my work for FRN. The church I grew up in was rural and conservative — their God was a spiteful one, and the arms of their Jesus were always shrinking.
My parents, though, were more progressive, and did their best to instill in me a doctrine of love and tolerance. Nonetheless, I found these conflicting messages confusing, and I felt alienated from traditions of faith. It wasn’t until my family moved to a different town and began attending the University Mennonite Church that I began to craft a spiritual life that aligned with my personal convictions. Through this Mennonite congregation, I began to discover a Jesus who loved my queer friends, condemned the greedy and hypocritical, and stood up against systemic violence. I found a living, growing, evolving faith, as complicated and nuanced as the world it serves. Most importantly, I found a community that not only prayed for peace, but acted for justice. Members of the congregation are a practical bunch; they recognize that helping is a lot more effective than hating.
My Jesus loves everyone. I am called to love my neighbors — that means everyone. And if Jesus’ followers are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless — again, that means everyone — they must learn to greet those who don’t share their beliefs with love, not judgment. The Food Reclamation Network’s greatest strength lies in the richness of its diversity; so too with the world. The future of faith lies in breaking bread together; only then will we all be fed.