Many churches stock food pantries with donated goods from parishioners to help meet community needs, especially during the holidays. Sustaining a food bank long-term can be a challenge, but First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City has found an inventive and amusing way to motivate its congregation to keep its shelves full: a canned food sculpture contest.
Cathy Manuel, First Baptist's director of community ministry, said the church's Good Shepherd Ministries, which reaches out to the urban population surrounding the downtown church, serves 500 families a month with its food bank, and during the holidays it distributes 200 baskets containing traditional meal supplies.
In 2009, the church needed to make sure it had enough items to stock Good Shepherd's shelves, so it launched a new effort: Sunday school classes and other church groups would compete for a "Best Sculpture" award by combining products such as canned goods, non-perishable food items, and clothing into "art."
"When I first heard the suggestion, I thought it was silly," confessed Manuel, who is now in charge of competition. "But it just took off. Now in our third year, the entire congregation looks forward to it. It helps them feel connected to the food pantry and take ownership of it."
The youth group won the first year with its "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree." Cans of green beans made up the tree, with yellow and red cans (peaches and olives) representing ornaments. Atop the tree sat an angel: a bottle of Aunt Jemima pancake syrup with wings made of gloves. Hanging nearby on a string were stockings made from sports socks. The youth won again in 2010 with a 10-foot high iPod.
Other entries over the years have included an American flag, a clock tower and steeple, a reindeer, a baseball diamond, and a grand piano, where the white keys were made from tubes of toothpaste and its black ones from miniature Hershey bars.
This year's competition was held the first weekend in November, but late Saturday night, a 5.6-magnitude earthquake hit just 44 miles northeast of town. Manuel said the sculpture made by the "Chapel Class" adult Sunday school group crashed to the floor-cans everywhere. Early Sunday morning, the creators of the "I CAN Lend a Helping Hand" sculpture scrambled before services to rebuild it, and their efforts paid off as they were named the winners.
"This is an easy and fun way for a congregation to raise food to help meet critical needs in its community," said Senior Pastor Tom Ogburn. "[It] reminds us a bit of the story of the feeding of the 5,000. God used a small idea to help feed many. I can only imagine the impact it could have if hundreds or even thousands of congregations choose to do something similar."