Sacking Hunger: Kids find no mission impossible

By Liz Applegate,
February 7, 2011
PLANO, Texas—Like the parable of the mustard seed, big things can come in small packages.Case in point: elementary-age children at First United Methodist Church in Plano, a suburb just north of Dallas, and their plan to help area food pantries.With the Super Bowl XLV just miles away at Cowboys Stadium, these half-pints decided to tackle the problem of hunger in North Texas by participating in the Souper Bowl of Caring, a national youth-led food drive and hunger awareness campaign that began in 1990.

FUMC Plano dedicated two Sundays to the food drive: Jan. 30 and Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 6. The kids passed out fliers to congregation members, set up an information table at the church in the weeks preceding the drive and spread the word about the event.

Handling mission projects twice their size is nothing new to these kids. In fact, they’re known in their church and community as the Mission Possible Kids (MPKids).

Started in 2003 at a neighboring United Methodist church in Plano, chapters of Mission Possible Kids have popped up in over 200 churches in 23 states.

The MPKids program involves elementary-age children in mission projects that help to meet needs within their communities as well as world missions. Members are given “spy names” and plan the projects and how they will carry them out.

Kathy Meadows, MPKids founder and executive director, began the program when her son, then in third grade, wanted to participate in mission work but couldn’t because of his age. Ms. Meadows realized that even young children could do large things.

“No one is too young to make a difference,” said Ms. Meadows, who was present for the first Sunday of the FUMC Plano MPKids Souper Bowl event. “If you wait for kids to go on a mission trip in their church’s youth group, it’s too late to get them fully invested. That’s why Mission Possible Kids started, to get them involved at an early age.”

Mardi Bowen, minister with children at First UMC, agreed.

“When these kids hit the youth program in sixth grade, they will already know how to serve others,” she said.

Ms. Bowen, whose three sons also participate in MPKids, is quick to point out the program is not about the kids wearing their signature neon-green MPKids T-shirts, having fun and letting the adults do the work.

“The kids are actually the ones who are doing it—the parents are supporting the kids, but it’s really the kids that come up with the projects and actually go out and do the work,” said Ms. Bowen. “[For the Souper Bowl of Caring] we had kids asking their neighbors, friends and families for donations and collecting food from them. One girl had a lemonade stand and the cost of the lemonade was a canned food item.”

On the first Sunday of their event, MPKids and parents under the direction of Robbin Falcone, FUMC Plano MPKids leader (known to the children as “Agent French Fry”) transformed the church’s central gathering area into a “virtual” Cowboys Stadium.

Goal posts were decorated for the Super Bowl opposing teams, the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Food items brought by congregation members were placed at the goal posts of their favorite Super Bowl football team. At times, wagons and even two-wheeled dollies filled with collected food items were wheeled into the gathering area.

With energetic enthusiasm before the 11:00 a.m. service of worship, MPKids burst through a hand-painted banner into the gathering area to the support and applause of the congregation. Almost 50 children, some resembling football players painted with blackout face paint and some in paper chef hats, formed a huddle for a team cheer and chanted, “We’re on a mission! Let’s save the world!”

It was this kind of passion and dedication that caught the eye of CBS-11, a local network TV affiliate. A camera crew filmed at the church during the first Sunday of the Souper Bowl of Caring rally. The MPKids were then featured on the station’s “Faces of Faith” segments throughout Super Bowl week.

“I’m just proud of these kids,” said Ms. Falcone. “They have served on 23 missions and have touched 22,924 lives. [The kids’] dedication and excitement in helping others is amazing.”

Like Riley McCutcheon’s lemonade stand for food donations, other “solo missions” have also been completed by individual children.
Will Peterman, a kindergartener, saw television commercials about shelter animals in need of adoption and wanted to help. He made dog toys and treats and delivered them to the Collin County Animal Shelter.

Even at the age of 5, Will is already planning his next project.

“My next solo mission is to make cards and collect items for soldiers that are fighting,” said Will.

Katie Rodriguez, an 11-year-old fifth grader, uses MPKids as a way to invite friends to church and has even included her Girl Scout troop in the program.

Katie has a heart for others and the Souper Bowl of Caring has reminded her of classmates who often go hungry.

“They don’t like to hang out with the other kids, but I am nice to them and I know that what we did here [the food drive] may be helping them,” she said.

The attitude of MPKids gives hope to Linda White, founder of God’s Food Pantry, the local food bank where First Church Plano donated the food collected from its Souper Bowl event.

God’s Food Pantry, a non-profit volunteer-run organization, serves over 50,000 individuals a year and operates solely on donations from individuals and organizations.

“[The kids] may not realize how much work they have done beyond collecting food,” says Ms. White. “They are a witness to others in the community and it’s an inspiration.”

MPKids collected nearly 2,300 pounds of food on just the first Sunday of the event. It will help to stock the shelves of God’s Food Pantry at a time when the numbers of those needing help is growing, says Ms. White.

Monetary donations from First Church’s Souper Bowl of Caring drive will go toward the North Texas Food Bank (NTFB), a non-profit hunger relief organization that serves 13 counties in North Texas.

Though North Texas is considered to be one of the more affluent areas in the U.S., NTFB reported a 21 percent increase in the need for hunger assistance in 2010.

“I hate to say it, but we have so many children that would go hungry if it weren’t for programs at school and [food banks],” said Ms. White. “That is why it really touches my heart to see [MPKids] doing all they have.”

Katie Rodriguez was also pleased with the success of the food drive.

“We have a lot of food that will help a lot of people in Dallas and Texas,” she said. “I am hoping that it will let people know they are special.”

And that’s what has Mardi Bowen really believing in Mission Possible Kids and its impact. “It truly is an example of little children leading us,” she said.

Information on forming a chapter of Mission Possible Kids can be found at http://www.mpkids.org. To participate in next year’s Souper Bowl of Caring, visit http://www.souperbowl.org/.

Published originally United Methodist Reporter.

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