A little over a week ago, I was part of a great mission project called a “Potato Drop.” Farmers in Vardaman, MS, famous for its sweet potatoes, had donated the portion of the crop from their fields that was not suitable for stores. An 18-wheeler dumped the spuds in a shopping center parking lot, and volunteers bagged the potatoes. Area hunger agencies then came to pick them up or else we delivered and/or unloaded them when the order was especially large.

The event was arranged by the Society of St. Andrew (www.endhunger.org) and coordinated with other campus ministries at Mississippi State by the Wesley Foundation (Hugh Griffith, campus minister). Students, faculty, staff, and townspeople associated with the Wesley Foundation, Catholic Student Association, Canterbury Episcopal Fellowship, Generation 6:20, Chi Alpha, and my own Presbyterian (USA) Collegiate Connection helped each other fill bags, toted them to an ever-increasing number of piles, unloaded trucks and cars, and got to know each other by working together.

I came away from that day with a great feeling of having helped just a little bit to end hunger. I also was floored by the mountain of potatoes available from just one small town in Mississippi. They didn’t look very good, but they were still edible, and unless the Society of St. Andrew had arranged with generous farmers for gleaning them from the fields, they would have gone to waste. According to the Society, 96 billion pounds of food are thrown away every year in this country; just while I was writing this, in about 15 minutes, over 1 million pounds were wasted.

But what I want especially to share here is how these kinds of projects can bring people together, whatever their beliefs and practices in their religious communities. In fact, you don’t have to have any faith at all to be part of such a mission. All you need to believe is that people are still hungry in a land of abundance and that you can do something about it in a few hours on a Saturday morning.

Millard Fuller once famously said about theology and building houses that when you’re on a roof, it matters not at all what denomination you are; it only matters if you can hit a nail on the head. I would say the same about this hunger project. It only matters that you can pick up a potato and put it in a bag. Whatever your faith, you can work with others to feed those who are victims of our country’s skewed values and shameful practices of waste. You can get to know those who differ from you in their beliefs, and find that you share a great deal in common. And you can be reminded, as I was, that the common human need for sustenance puts us all on the same level.

I felt like I was doing something. You can, too. Find out about the Society of St. Andrew or similar gleaning organizations in your community. End hunger. End waste. Get to know your neighbors.

© 2006 by Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.