Good morning. I’m Scott Bradford, and I was asked to speak to you this morning about Harvest of Hope, which is the ecumenical study/worship/action retreat program of the Society of Saint Andrew designed to educate youth and adults about the problem of hunger. In fewer words, it is an amazing and life-changing experience.
My first time going to Harvest was two years ago in the summer of 1998. My father had joined the staff of the Society of Saint Andrew about a year before, and I still didn’t quite have a grasp on what it was all about. What I had heard about Harvest of Hope was little, and—frankly—it didn’t interest me at all. I knew simply that it required a week of my time, a lot of work, and giving up sweets and sodas for the length of the event.
But, one way or another, Dad got me to go to the even on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I soon found out just how wonderful the event would be.
Most days at Harvest are simultaneously taxing, fun, and relaxing. Wake up and breakfast is usually around 6:00 a.m. (that’s probably the most taxing part), followed shortly thereafter by morning worship. From there, the whole group of us goes to a local field—for the Eastern Shore event it’s usually a corn or potato field—and we glean, or pick up food left in the fields after harvesting that would otherwise sit there and rot.
This food is perfectly good, but it might be too small or slightly the wrong color to join the rest of the crop on the shelves of grocery stores. We spend about three or four hours gleaning, and—although tiring—the work is a lot of fun. It’s almost a paradox, and it’s difficult to explain to anybody who hasn’t experienced it, but the gleaning is one of the most enjoyable parts of Harvest of Hope because of the fellowship with other gleaners and the knowledge that you are feeding people in need.
After gleaning, a typical morning of which often yields more than 10,000 pounds of produce, Harvesters proceed to a local church that donates lunch—a most welcome thing after the work of the morning. From there, we’d proceed back to camp for a free afternoon from about 1:00 to 4:30. This time of fellowship gives everybody a chance to socialize with their new friends, go swimming or boating, or whatever else.
After that, we’d come together in small groups of about seven people to discuss hunger in the world and what God calls us a Christians to do about it. After an hour or so of that, it’s time for dinner, and after that we come together for a large group discussion. In the large group, we form a circle and discuss the day, ask questions, and talk about what issues were brought up in the small groups. Soon after that is the closing worship service of the day, followed by much-needed sleep.
Most days of the week follow this same schedule. with the exception of Wednesday, which replaces the gleaning with morning visits to local hunger ministries like food banks and homeless shelters. Another exception is Friday, the last full day of the event, where we gather with our youth groups—rather than our small groups—to come up with a plan to take back to our churches on how to combat hunger where we live.
As you can tell, it’s a busy week, broken down into six different key aspects that come together to make it such a wonderful experience.
#1 is gleaning, which is a medium to actually do something to help people who are hungry and demonstrate very graphically just how much food in this nation goes to waste.
#2 is study; at Harvest we learn why people are hungry, what God calls us to do, and just how we can do it.
#3 is worship, which brings into focus the relationship between faith and service to the poor and helps us grow in Christian fellowship.
#4 is meals, stressing good nutrition and also there’s a Hunger Awareness Meal at each event that shows how many are hungry in the world or what it’s like to be hungry yourself.
#5 is fellowship. It’s amazing how quickly you can make friends at these events, and just how long those friendships last. I am still close to just about everybody I’ve met from every Harvest of Hope event I’ve been to.
Finally, #6 is commitment. You come away from the even ready and wanting to do something to make a difference—to help people in need and do God’s work. On top of that desire, you come away with a plan on how to make it happen.
There are Harvest of Hope events for everybody—High School events, College events, weekend intergenerational events which anybody can attend, and a new adult event in Washington, DC. Anybody who wishes to be a part of this wonderful experience can, and I think should.
Back in 1998, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go to Harvest of Hope. Now I find it difficult to imagine it not being a part of my summer. It’s changed my life, helping me to be aware of food waste and of the huge hunger problem in this nation that often goes unnoticed. It has driven me to have a stronger faith and to do more service work for people who are less fortunate than I.
It’s an experience that not only allows all participants to find wonderful new friends and grow in their faith, but it also gives them a way to help and a way to make a difference. In the 1999 Harvest of Hope season, the 558 participants at all of the events gleaned 187,247 pounds of produce—providing over 560,000 servings. 558 people fed thousands, simply by giving one week or weekend of their time. Those 558 people made a difference, and the experience made a difference in them . . . and me.