Just over a year ago I was on a train home to visit my parents in the Chicago suburbs when my cell phone rang. It was my mother, who was calling to gauge my interest in a family service project packaging meals for Haiti.
Envisioning a room somewhere in a church basement with a pile of canned goods, miscellaneous boxes, and a junior high youth group, I was shocked when we walked into a former hardware store in Elgin, IL to roughly 1,000 energized volunteers filling box after box with packages of a nutritious rice, soy, vegetable, and vitamin blend – all the while chatting and dancing excitedly.
Somewhere along the way, the excitement caught me. Coming from a student organization at the University of Illinois–Interfaith in Action–with a rich history of organizing service projects, I wanted to see such an endeavor staged on my campus.
This is where the story of interfaith cooperation catches fire.
I brought the idea to a small group of friends – the “executive committee” that organized Interfaith in Action’s programs. We were an Evangelical Christian, a Catholic, a Buddhist, a Hindu, and a Humanist, and we set out to plan an event at which our campus could package these meals for Haiti.
I got a hold of the cell phone number for Rick McNary, founder of Numana, Inc., with whom I discussed the logistics of the project. We started a search for facilities to host the event, the money to fund the event, and the volunteers to staff the event. During the process, we connected with the regional office of the Salvation Army who connected us with the local corps at the same time that a phone call from Washington, D.C. out of the Salvation Army World Service Office confirmed that a federal grant was going to fund our project.
With that, a community-wide, multi-faith endeavor was born. The event was moved to an abandoned Hobby Lobby building on the west side of Champaign and staff from Numana, Inc. flew in prepare for the event.
In a single weekend, 5,112 volunteers from every walk of life, faith and philosophical tradition passed through that site to lend a hand. In less than 12 hours, 1,012,640 meals were packaged for shipment to Haiti where they were protected by the 82nd airborne and distributed by Salvation Army humanitarian workers.
This is a story of coming together, it’s a story of cooperation, and it’s a story of interfaith work. As an evangelical, this is a snapshot of how I desire to live out my faith. To do so alongside people who I desire to show the compassion of Jesus makes it an even more compelling endeavor.
Jesus said “I was hungry and you brought me something to eat.” Consider the significance of inviting others to join in such an activity. If you ask me, this is a simple yet profound way to communicate the compassion of Christ, meet the needs of the world, and build a better community.