Meal Packing Effort Proves “Ithaca is Grateful”

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Tompkins Weekly     5-30-16

By Eric Clay

“I have made friends I never would have made and witnessed friendships blossom where I never imagined they would among Jews, Evangelical Christians, Mormons, Roman Catholics and Muslims. I have come to know intimately that the wider community is composed of myriad, almost invisible, smaller communities that have been there all along but I had not had the occasion or angle of vision to notice them,” Marcie Bishop says of her five years on the Ithaca MobilePack steering committee and as Chair of one of this year’s cosponsoring organizations, Shared Journeys.

The Ithaca MobilePack is a local, interfaith meal-packing event affiliated with Feed My Starving Children, an international Christian organization. The Ithaca MobilePack coined the term “Ithaca is Generous” to acknowledge the many local gifts of money and time that have helped feed more than 4,500 children for a full year. Meals were packed by the generosity of more than 7,000 volunteers over six years.

Working in six- to eight-member teams and two-hour shifts, people scooped vitamins, veggies, soy and rice into packets for children in Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico and Liberia. Roughly one-third of the local volunteers have been children or youth, who come with their families or peers to pack and to learn about local and regional food insecurity.

The Rev. Rob Foote, a Missouri Synod clergyman at the helm of Trinity Lutheran Church, became the religious face of this effort, proclaiming it, “The most fun you will ever have in a hairnet.” The event feels like a carnival, with 1,300 people packing meals in groups of 60 over three or for days to the sounds of blaring music.

We are clearly generous in gifts of time and money given away for others. Yet generosity and humility combine to hold us together every year that we work across religious, cultural and economic class differences.

The Ithaca MobilePack is arguably the largest, most diverse volunteer effort in the region. “Ithaca is Generous” when we graciously welcome all who are willing to work for others to join in the labor. Packing events have been hosted in a wide array of local congregations, each with distinct religious traditions. At each pack we welcome participants who are members of any congregation—or none at all.

“We’ve come to know each other over years of working together. I was raised Unitarian, but for over 25 years I’ve been a member of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. My faith journey is informed by reading, meditation and prayer, and sharing with others. But that is not the whole story. I have come to understand how important our differences are to our faith—clarifying who we are with each other and how we can work together. None of this happened overnight,” Bishop says.

Ithaca MobilePack brings new relationships every year. As the Church of Latter Day Saints (colloquially referred to as Mormons) was planning a Charity Yard and Bake Sale to buy food for the meals, Doa Adbel-Ghany, an active member of the local Muslim community and a representative to Area Congregations Together, spoke up: “I have kids and friends who would benefit from helping with this sale. They need to be part of the wider community.”

Doa, with her husband Abdou, have also arranged through Ithaca Welcomes Refugees to share storage space before the sale on June 18. Last year, the Finger Lakes ReUse Center picked up unsold furniture and goods for sale at their store, but they could not take the children’s goods or clothing. This year, Ithaca Welcomes Refugees will collect children’s furniture and clothing, and a Roman Catholic organization will take the more difficult or unusual-sized clothing for distribution.

Working shoulder to shoulder, we weave and re-weave the fabric of community, and we slowly come to know each other’s practices, values, and life concerns. These are the small ways understanding and respect can come to permeate the life of a community.

For more information, or to get involved, consider the following:

T-shirt Days (June 3-5 at the Ithaca Festival). Support the Ithaca MobilePack by wearing a new red Ithaca MobilePack T-shirt to the upcoming Ithaca Festival events, or wear an old one. Contact Sandy Galbreath at (607) 319-4228 for ordering details. The cost is $15/adult, $10/children.

Charity Yard & Bake Sale (9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 18), LDS Church at 114 Burleigh Drive, Ithaca. For more information or to drop off goods email

The Ithaca MobilePack (Sept. 22, 23 and 24), First Congregational Church, 309 Highland Road, Ithaca
To volunteer, donate, or fundraise go to

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