Paysinger Hunger Summit designed to encourage action

State Senator Bobby Pierce, a United Methodist from Sheridan, shared his personal experience with food insecurity as part of the Paysinger Hunger Summit, held Sept. 10 in Little Rock. AUM PHOTO BY MARY LEWIS DASSINGER

State Senator Bobby Pierce, a United Methodist from Sheridan, shared his personal experience with food insecurity as part of the Paysinger Hunger Summit, held Sept. 10 in Little Rock.
AUM PHOTO BY MARY LEWIS DASSINGER

By Michelle J. Morris
Special Contributor

“Why are you calling our names out?”

“We got to.”

“Why you got to?”

State Senator Bobby J. Pierce of Sheridan recalled this conversation with his high school principal. The argument happened when Pierce was in 10th grade and he refused to go to the office to pick up his free lunch ticket because they were announcing all the names of the free lunch kids over the loudspeaker. Pierce refused to sign for his ticket, and his refusals led to his being punished with licks from a paddle for nine consecutive days before he and the principal came to an understanding.

Pierce was among many people advocating for the needs of those who are hungry at the Paysinger Hunger Summit, held Saturday, Sept. 10 at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church Little Rock. Those needs include not only access to food, but also preservation of the dignity of those who struggle with food insecurity. Pierce’s personal experience as a child growing up in a single-parent household helped frame the discussion throughout the day.

Combating food insecurity

Staff members of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance served as presenters in many of the Summit’s sessions, including on the panel at lunch, when Patty Barker shared with the attendees some significant details about hunger in Arkansas. According to Barker, Arkansas ranks second in food insecurity, and fifth in food insecurity for children. Food insecurity is defined as limited access to nutritious food due to income. As the campaign director of the Arkansas No Kid Hungry effort, she says their goal is to reach all food insecure kids where they live, learn and play.

First UMC Little Rock members Claire Martin, Jessica Szenher and Ginny McMurray led an information session on the church’s Friends and Neighbors Network (FANN) ministry that empowers and creates community among persons who receive food. AUM PHOTO BY MICHELLE J. MORRIS

First UMC Little Rock members Claire Martin, Jessica Szenher and Ginny McMurray led an information session on the church’s Friends and Neighbors Network (FANN) ministry that empowers and creates community among persons who receive food.
AUM PHOTO BY MICHELLE J. MORRIS

Attendees of the Paysinger Hunger Summit also had three sessions to choose various topics that might be helpful in their contexts. A team from First UMC Little Rock shared their experience with Friends and Neighbors Network (FANN) during one of the sessions. FANN might best be described as a food pantry in which the organization and disbursement of food is handled by the recipients themselves. They also hold a community meeting that allows them to share news and prayer requests and make plans for their community funds which comes from the pool of their monthly membership fee.

Summit participants also could experience a session of Cooking Matters training. Cooking Matters classes teach basic cooking and nutritional skills to a recurring group of people. This program helps equip a generation who has lost the knowledge of how to prepare meals at home.

In the session on community gardens, Brandon Chapman of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance encouraged the group by sharing how even the smallest bit of land can produce food. With proper education on which crops thrive in what season, a 1.5 acre plot can produce 40,000 pounds of food in a year.

“You don’t even need land,” Chapman said. “You can throw hay bales on a parking lot and start growing food right there.”

Origins and goals

The Paysinger Hunger Summit was supported by a grant from the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas from funds given by the Rev. Vernon and Eva Lee Paysinger specifically to support Arkansas ministries that work to eliminate hunger. According to UMFA president and CEO Jim Argue, Vernon Paysinger himself started every morning with a simple bowl of brown rice to keep in mind all the people in the world who were getting by on very little.

Planners and supporters of this Summit, which was part of the Arkansas Conference’s 200,000 Reasons initiative to reduce childhood hunger in the state, hope that the seeds planted in the minds of participants will bear fruit to create better options for the thousands in our state who go hungry every day. To learn more about the 200,000 Reasons initiative and what churches and individuals can do to make a difference, visit www.200kreasons.arumc.org.

The Rev. Dr. Morris serves as pastor of Wesley and Cavanaugh UMCs in Fort Smith.