Church focuses on poverty, hunger

Sue Guinn Legg • Oct 25, 2013 at 8:56 AM

Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church is inviting the public to a couple of early November events designed to further understanding of poverty and hunger and engage the local community in the work to ease them.

On Nov. 2, the church will host “Walking in the Footsteps of Another,” a three-hour poverty simulation exercise in which participants will assume the roles of people who have experienced the loss of their jobs, cars and homes, people who depend on public transportation and people who rely on food stamps and at times do not know where their next meal will come from.

Without a script to follow, those who wish to take part will be placed in a simulated family, given an outline of their circumstance and challenged to figure out their next step, said Patty Muse, a lay pastor at Munsey who is coordinating the event.

Examples include an unemployed 24-year-old mother of two young children who has no car and needs day care to go out to find employment and a latchkey child who is home alone with no food in the house when a landlord arrives demanding rent followed by a utility worker who is there to turn off the electricity.

The role playing will be conducted in 15 segments, each representing a different segment of the month, with the end of the month presenting greater challenges for those dependent on government benefits and assistance programs such as Social Security and food stamps.

“These are a very real situations that we in the middle class just don’t think about,” Muse said. “We see someone on the street and we may wonder how did they get there but we think ‘it could never happen to me.’ We don’t want to think about what it’s like to be poor. But maybe we ought to allow ourselves to consider it.

“This is a safe, nonthreatening way to walk in the shoes of another.”

The event is open to anyone age 16 and older and includes credit for community service hours for students. Registration is required and must be completed by Sunday. Registration forms are available online at Munsey.org and at the church located in downtown Johnson City at the corner of Roan and Buffalo streets. Completed registration forms must be submitted by email to pattymuse@munsey.org or dropped off at the church.

On Nov. 3 at 3 p.m., the church will host a screening of “A Place at the Table,” a documentary by filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush that examines the issues of hunger in America. The screening will be held in Munsey’s Christian Life Center. Admission is free. The film is also being screened by several other Johnson City churches.

Questions addressed in the film include: Why are almost 50 million Americans hungry? Why are more than 23.5 million American children and teenagers overweight or obese and, at times, also experiencing hunger? What triggers and connects these trends? What systems and institutions perpetuate food insecurity? And what reforms can help ensure people get the healthy food they need?

The film includes the profiles of three people struggling with food insecurity, a single mother in Philadelphia, a fifth-grader who depends on friends and neighbors for food and a second grader whose health issues are exacerbated by empty calories provided by her working mother.

Their stories are interwoven with commentary from experts including sociologist Janet Poppendieck, author Raj Patel, nutrition policy leader Marion Nestle, hunger activist Mariana Chilton from Witness to Hunger, Tom Colicchio, actor Jeff Bridges, pastor Bob Wilson and teachers Leslie Nichols and Odessa Cherry.

The film will be followed by a question-and-answer session with a panel of professionals who work directly with hunger in the local region, including Rhonda Chafin, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee; Karen McGahey, director of Food Services for Johnson City Schools; Captain Nick Garrison, commander of the Johnson City Salvation Army; Sarah Wells, executive director of Good Samaritan Ministries; and Jan Orchard, founder and executive director of the new nonprofit One Acre Cafe.

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