Pleasant Valley UMC Speech—Society of St. Andrew

Good afternoon! My name is Scott Bradford, and it’s a real pleasure to be here this evening, especially to talk a bit about the wonderful work of the Society of Saint Andrew and what this congregation has done to support it.

But first, let me tell you a little bit about myself. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I don’t actually work for the Society. So I wanted to talk first a bit about how I came to be involved with SoSA’s work, and then I’ll get to the really good stuff.

In early 1997, I was a freshman at Chantilly High School. My father was a Commander in the United States Coast Guard, stationed at Coast Guard Headquarters in DC, and quickly approaching his retirement after over twenty years of service. In the evenings and weekends, he was attending Wesley Theological Seminary with the goal of becoming a Pastor in the United Methodist Church.

I was still trying to get used to the idea that my father, in about a year, would be becoming a student pastor when he told me and my family that he was going to interview for a fund raising position at some hunger ministry down in Big Island, Virginia. I remember asking him, first off, where the heck is that?

Well, apparently the interview went well. A few months later, with me reluctantly in-tow, my family loaded up the minivan and drove three and a half hours to a rented home in the thriving metropolis of Bedford County, Virginia and my father began his work as a fund-raiser with the Society of Saint Andrew. To this day, he jokingly calls himself ‘the seminary drop-out.’

In 1997, I was a cynical, unhappy kid in a lot of ways. I sure wasn’t on-board with being uprooted from Northern Virginia—where I had lived much of my life, and where I had just finally started to make a few friends in my first year at Chantilly. But, more fundamentally, I just wasn’t nearly as into this ‘Christianity’ thing as the rest of my family was. I used to give them all heartburn by explaining that I didn’t see how they could expect me to believe in some mythical God I couldn’t see.

But the move to Bedford wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I actually started making friends fairly quickly, and—while Bedford was certainly a big change from Northern Virginia—the town wasn’t quite as backwards as I had feared it would be. But I still lacked faith. I attended church with my family mainly because they wanted me to, not because I wanted to.

About a year later, my parents convinced me—again, somewhat reluctantly—to go to one of the Society of Saint Andrew’s week-long Harvest of Hope summer camps on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in a town called Exmore. It was probably the most life-changing event I’ve ever attended.

By the end of the week, I understood two things that hadn’t made much sense to me before:

First, I understood why my father had decided to uproot his family and drastically change his planned career path so he could take a job at the Society of Saint Andrew.

And second, I understood that Christianity makes a lot more more sense when you are putting the teachings of Jesus Christ into real-world action.

That Harvest of Hope event was, in many ways, the first time that I really, truly saw God.

Now, that’s not to say I ended up following my father’s career path. As soon as I finished high school, I came back up to Northern Virginia to get my Bachelor’s degree at George Mason University. Today, I work for Plexus Scientific Corporation in Alexandria as the Web Content Manager for three Department of Defense web sites.

But, in large part because of that Harvest of Hope event in 1998, I continued going to church each week—my wife and I still attend Community of Faith United Methodist Church, not far from here—and to this day, I’m always happy to help the Society of Saint Andrew out when they need somebody to talk to local congregations.

And that’s what brings me here today.

You know, when I first started writing down what I was going to say this afternoon, I started going in the direction I usually go when I come talk to churches. I started looking up some scripture about what Christians are supposed to do to feed the hungry. I started thinking about some interesting ways of motivating everybody in this room to take action. But, before I got too far into it, I got an email from Susan Allen, who is the Society of Saint Andrew’s Director of Church Relations.

Susan’s email told me that she was going to Fed-Ex me a plaque to present to this church to recognize and thank you for your amazing donation of $3,387 to the Society of Saint Andrew in 2005. Needless to say, I think the original direction I had in mind for this talk would have had me preachin’ to the choir.

So here’s the plaque, which recognizes Pleasant Valley as a 2005 ‘Faithful Partner’. And I noticed walking around here in this room that you already have one of these from 2004. So I hope you’ll put this up as just a small token of thanks and appreciation for all of your help over the past year. I think you all deserve a round of applause. . . .

So let me tell you a little bit about what the Society of Saint Andrew has been up to over the past year, and specifically what your generous donations have really accomplished.

SoSA is active across the United States. There are now forty-three Gleaning Offices spread across twenty-one states, which coordinate local gleaning projects and bring in much of the food that SoSA distributes to the hungry people in all 48 of the contiguous United States.

The Society also opened its fifth regional office in Mathiston, Mississippi. 15.8 percent of Mississippi’s population is reported to be ‘food-insecure’, so it’s a perfect place to concentrate SoSA’s excellent work.

Society of Saint Andrew has also been heavily involved in Hurricane Katrina and Rita relief. Through December 31, 2005, SoSA had distributed 436,000 pounds of food to affected areas—that’s about 1.3 million servings. Through a special hurricane relief appeal, SoSA supporters donated $74,000; one-hundred percent of which has been pledged to go directly feeding people affected by the hurricanes.

The Society is still seeking out bulk food donations for hurricane relief, and is estimating that before it’s all said-and-done they will have distributed 1.5 million pounds of food—or 4.44 million servings.

These numbers sound real big, but they’re almost tiny compared with SoSA’s normal, every-day work.

There are two main food-recovery projects at the Society of Saint Andrew: The Gleaning Network and the Potato Project. In both projects, the food is donated by farmers or businesses and then bagged by volunteers. In most cases, SoSA only needs to pay to have the food delivered.

The Gleaning Network coordinates volunteers, growers, and distribution agencies to salvage food from the fields that would otherwise go to waste. An unnerving amount of food is grown in this country—more than enough to feed every man, woman, and child and still have tons left over. But much of it is never even harvested from the farms they’re grown on.

Gleaning volunteers provide manpower to pick up tons of this produce and bag it, and the Society of Saint Andrew then transports it to food banks and shelters. In 2005, Gleaning Network volunteers salvaged over 15,420,000 pounds of food.

The Potato Project is similar in many ways, but instead of picking up fruit and veggies from the field, volunteers bag potatoes that are delivered to them by the truckload. Entire truckloads of produce are often rejected by commercial markets or potato chip factories due to slight imperfections in size, shape, sugar content, or surface blemishes. The food is still perfectly edible; it just needs to be bagged and delivered to people in need.

Volunteers with the Potato Project bagged over 14,160,000 pounds of food in 2005.

Between the two projects, there were 2,681 events which involved over 40,000 volunteers. All told, they salvaged a whopping grand total of over 29,580,000 pounds of food—food that, instead of going to waste, went to people in need.

Now, I think that sounds pretty impressive and I’m throwing a lot of big numbers at you, but what does it all really mean?

Well, one pound of salvaged produce equates to about three servings. So that 29 and-a-half million pounds works out to well over 88 million servings for the hungry. That’s 88 million meals for people who might otherwise have had nothing.

Talk about putting the teachings of Jesus Christ into action!

Now, I spoke earlier about this church’s donations to SoSA—$3,387. What did that do?

Well, one of my favorite things about the Society of Saint Andrew is that—compared to other charitable and non-profit organizations—they spend very, very little on themselves. Less than six percent of money raised for the Society goes to administrative and fund raising overhead—so more than 94 cents for every dollar you send to them goes directly to feeding the hungry.

Now, the food is donated, and it’s salvaged by volunteers, so SoSA can feed the hungry at about four cents per pound—or about one cent per serving.

When you work all that out—factoring in the overhead costs and breaking it down into pounds and servings—I discovered that your donations made it possible for SoSA to salvage over 79,600 pounds of food. That means that you were directly responsible for almost 319,000 servings getting from the fields and factories and into the mouths of the hungry.

Think about that one for a minute.

In Matthew, Chapter 14, Verse 16—the story of the feeding of the five thousand—Jesus told his followers, “You give them something to eat.” Well, this church helped feed over 300,000 last year. I think it’s clear that you took Jesus’s command to heart.

In 2006, I hope that you will continue your generous support. In addition to your monetary giving, which is greatly appreciated by the people at SoSA, I’d also encourage you all—if you haven’t already—to look into some of the fun and exciting ways you can volunteer with the Society’s projects and see for yourself how much food really goes to waste in this country.

You can have a Potato Project potato drop right here at the church, and have a day of fellowship and bagging food for the hungry. You can send groups into the fields through the Gleaning Network to pick up produce, which I know you usually do once a year already in the fall.

And there are several options to participate in Harvest of Hope camps—my own personal favorite of SoSA’s projects. There are week-long high school-age events, junior-high weekend events, college and young adult weekend events, and weekend intergenerational events for everybody young and old. At Harvest you can learn about hunger and do some gleaning, worship, and fellowship while you’re at it.

In other words, there are plenty of options, in addition to raising money, for getting hands-on with SoSA’s mission to feed the hungry, and I encourage you to take a look at those—again if you haven’t already done so.

In closing, I’d like to thank you all very much for your hospitality and having me here today. More importantly, on behalf of the Society of Saint Andrew, I want to thank you for all your continuing contributions and congratulate you for everything you’ve helped accomplish so far.

Thank you. . . .

Scott Bradford has been putting his opinions on his website since 1995—before most people knew what a website was. He has been a professional web developer in the public- and private-sector for over twenty years. He is an independent constitutional conservative who believes in human rights and limited government, and a Catholic Christian whose beliefs are summarized in the Nicene Creed. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University. He loves Pink Floyd and can play the bass guitar . . . sort-of. He’s a husband, pet lover, amateur radio operator, and classic AMC/Jeep enthusiast.