The 16-year-old exchange student at the Donoho School is from the Zhejaing province in China. He was one of about 74 volunteers who came to Grace Baptist Church in Oxford as part of a program that saves fresh vegetables that are unsellable in grocery stores and packages them to be sent to local food assistance agencies. The two tons of green beans were sorted and bagged by volunteers Saturday.
When asked if he’d ever seen so many green beans in one place, Lu smiled and simply answered, “no.”
Lu’s host parent, Oxford resident Kathy Mitchell, said Lu must complete volunteer work while in the U.S. as part of the exchange program, and she thought the green bean drop would be a perfect way to fill that requirement.
The Society of St. Andrew, a nationwide hunger-relief organization, in partnership with the Food Bank of North Alabama, organizes these events. It’s the second year Grace Baptist Church has taken part. The green beans were collected from a farmer who could not sell them to grocery stores because they were too short or too long or broken.
Jason King, pastor of Grace Baptist, said he believes the event is an opportunity God provided the church with last year.
“When we heard how the food can go to all the various areas, it’s more than we could come together and do ourselves, so we really liked the idea and the potential impact of it,” King said.
Debbie Buffalo, a member of Grace Baptist, works at the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home, which helps foster parents and provides homes for children in crisis.
“We gave out quite a few bags last year to foster parents,” Buffalo said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Buffalo grew up with Mary Lynn Botts, Society of St. Andrew program coordinator for Alabama, and put Botts in touch with King, beginning a partnership between the organization and the church.
Botts said Grace Baptist and Mountain View Church in Anniston split the approximately $1,000 cost of transporting the 10,000-pounds of green beans to the church.
“It makes you count your own blessings,” Botts said of the events.
In Alabama about 25 percent of people are food insecure, Botts said, referring to people who do not have regular access to quality food.
The Society of St. Andrews started in the late 1970s by three Methodist ministers, Botts explained.
Botts said the three ministers asked their church conference if they could go and live atop a mountain in Big Island, Va. The ministers travelled to churches and spoke about the importance of not wasting what could be saved and on how to live simply.
The ministers stumbled upon a farmer on one of their trips and discovered he was throwing away many pounds of food that couldn’t be sold, Botts said. That meeting spurred the idea to begin the program.
“There was a real push in the 1970s to live simply and back to nature,” Bott said. “That message is even more needed today.”
The nationwide organization has saved about 33 million pounds of food so far this year, which created about 69 million servings of food for people in need. The program has distributed about 14.5 million pounds of food throughout Alabama.
To learn more about the Society of St., Andrews, visit www.endhunger.org.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.