WORTHINGTON — If you want to help solve the local problem of food insecurity, the July 30 “Better Together” food packaging event is a good place to start.

Initiated by the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), Better Together aims to halt hunger and food insecurity in the United States by means of providing easily accessible and nutritious meals for those in need.

“The ELCA’s former director of evangelical missions wanted to help address food insecurity issues facing our communities, and to do so in a way that would especially help our diverse populations work together to address this,” said the Rev. Jeanette McCormick, pastor of Worthington’s First Lutheran Church.

“In the Better Together model, everyone can be a part of the solution.”

McCormick, with the aid of a dedicated committee, is coordinating the Worthington Better Together effort. The first such endeavor took place here in July 2017, and the spacious multi-purpose room at American Reformed Church will once again be the packing site.

When the 2019 Better Together day has wrapped up, 100,000 meals (six servings per package) should be in the bag for those in need of extra food to stretch their budgets and satisfy their hunger.

“This isn’t just about addressing food needs, but also about packing alongside others for a couple of hours,” said McCormick.

“We hope that you might find the courage to talk to someone you maybe didn’t know before, who might be from a different cultural background than you, but who happens to be your neighbor in this community."

Generous grants and sponsorships from area organizations are making it possible to enact Better Together here.

McCormick applied for and received a $19,000, three-year ELCA Domestic Hunger grant, and a portion of those dollars are supporting Better Together. Additional sponsors include W-2’s Meats, the Southwest Minnesota ELCA Synod, the Worthington Area Foundation, the Worthington Area Christian Ministerial Association, First State Bank Southwest, Elks Lodge 2287, the Nobles County Farm Bureau, the Nobles County Corn and Soybean Growers, Wal-Mart and the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation. American Reformed Church is donating the workspace.

“This costs about $30,000 to do, but an anonymous donor through the synod provides a match, so we only had to raise half of that,” said McCormick.

“It was a pretty amazing coming together of people within just a few weeks, and we’re really thankful there were so many who were very willing to support our efforts to combat hunger.”

Volunteers will assist in packing six different meals: macaroni and cheese, oatmeal, rice and beans, cheesy rice, minestrone soup and tomato-basil pasta.

“We offer the packages to the local food shelves, and a unique aspect of Better Together is that any family or individual who comes to work can take what they need for the month of August,” said McCormick.

The Better Together committee is keenly aware that the free summer lunches offered to local kids tend to end in August, and with a high percentage of Worthington students who being eligible for free or reduced school lunches, a need exists to cover the gap until the school year begins.

Besides being available at the local food shelves, the Better Together meals are sent home with students in District 518 schools as part of monthly “food bundles” during the academic year.

“We send letters home with students so they can self-identify if they would benefit from this program, or they can also sign up during the August back-pack giveaway day at Westminster Presbyterian Church,” said McCormick.

Those bundles include the Better Together meal packs but also other non-perishable items such as granola bars and applesauce.

McCormick’s congregation will assemble the first of those bundles on a “God’s Work, Our Hands” Sunday (Sept. 8) which the public is welcome to attend, while others in the area—including employees from Newport Labs and local schoolteachers—have also helped with the effort.

“We continue to explore other ways to address hunger in our community, and to engage with different partners,” said McCormick, noting she is particularly thankful for Erin Schutte Wadzinski, Tyler Wadzinski, Angie Meyer, Maggie Gerdes, Laurie Knutson, Lisa Schutte, Brad Bonnett and Jim Krapf.

“We would love more help and more ideas,” she stressed. “The door is wide open.”

But first, McCormick urges anyone who has the time and inclination to spend roughly two hours at Better Together on July 30. She assure there are tasks suitable for people of all ages and ability levels.

“We’ve been richly blessed,” McCormick said of the resources that have enabled the Better Together project to move forward.

“We have the joy of getting to share abundantly with people, and we’re excited and ready to do that,” she added.

“There are a lot of great things happening, and it’s fun to watch Worthington work together to do something so positive.”

For more information or to sign up for a two-hour shift (1:30 to 3:30 p.m., 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. or 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.) at Better Together on Tuesday, July 30, call Jeanette McCormick at 612-636-1533, email her at felcpastor@frontier.com or go to the link signupgenius.com/go/5080e48acae2ca6fe3-better. The Better Together packing event takes place at American Reformed Church, 1720 Burlington Ave., Worthington.