'Stop Hunger Now' benefits Haitian victims, local unity


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Area residents won't soon forget Hurricane Matthew. The storm’s heavy rains last month swelled area creeks and rivers, flooding streets and neighborhoods, closing schools and businesses and disrupting life in general. The weeks-long recovery from the tropical storm is still underway, affecting many citizens whose homes, businesses, cars or other property were damaged by the floodwaters. It was a reminder, as other storms have been, to coastal dwellers that Mother Nature is and always will be in control, despite what preparations and efforts are made beforehand.

The storm, or more importantly, its aftermath, also reflects how people react to disasters and what it reveals about our values, character and relationships as humans.

Local citizens will be demonstrating those qualities at today's “Stop Hunger Now” event at the R.L. Vaughan Center at Elizabeth City State University. Beginning at 3 p.m., organizers are planning to package 100,000 meals that will be shipped to Haiti.

Why Haiti? Well, if you think this area was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew last month, and it certainly was, consider this: The storm made a direct hit on this Caribbean island nation in early October with winds of 146 mph and flooding rains. The storm killed about 550 people in Haiti, and more deaths are expected due to the intolerable conditions left in the storm's aftermath. Many of the victims are children. The widespread devastation left much of Haiti’s housing infrastructure destroyed. Relief officials with the United Nations report that 141,000 people are still living in shelters, and hunger is one of the leading causes for concern.

In the local response, many individuals and groups have been organizing and raising money, but it will take a community effort to put those meals together and get them on their way to tens of thousands of hungry people in Haiti. And what better way to get that done than through the firm and loving hands of local churches and church congregations pulling together?

Though many are involved, the core organizers of the benefit are the Revs. Chip Broadfoot, pastor of Christ Episcopal Church, and Hipp Barclift, pastor of Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church — who also is widely known for this work for the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Parks and Recreation Department.

The pair have recruited volunteers from their congregations as well as the ministers and congregations of other area churches to pull together in this humane cause. They also have another objective that’s just as humane and just as critical.

Several months ago, local leaders considering the racially divisive and often violent reactions to tragic events — among them the controversial deaths of black men during police actions in cities and communities across the nation — began pondering whether the same events could spread to Elizabeth City. But rather than just wait for a similar incident to happen here, they looked at what could be done to prevent it.

One needed response became obvious. A common theme in the areas where violence had erupted was that communications, interactions and general unity between black and white residents had not been sufficiently valued or nurtured.

Hence, what better way to avoid trouble than to eliminate the conditions that accommodate it. That was made a focus of the Revs. Barclift and Broadfoot. The two have been tasked with rallying the racially diverse faith-community — a resource that holds a great lever of power and influence in Elizabeth City — to come together for a common cause.

Today's gathering of citizens for the “Stop Hunger Now” project, and its larger goal of ending world hunger by 2030, is the product of that effort. It will achieve the primary objective of feeding a lot people in Haiti, saving lives in the process, while enabling that nation to begin to rebuild what nature has destroyed. It will also benefit Food Bank of the Albemarle with a canned food collection. Despite the efforts of many individuals, churches and groups, hunger remains a pervasive and long-term condition of this region, too.

But today's gathering will also benefit the objective of pulling the area’s diverse communities together. Putting our collective shoulders behind the push for the victims of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti as well as those who feel hunger locally, helps build the teamwork and common vision for moving ahead together.

Strengthening that resource has never been more important. For many reasons, the tenor of our times has grown divisive, as illustrated by the rhetoric of the recent election campaign season. Hence, what local citizens do together now to build stronger ties with each other, across the racial and ethnic divide, can head off conflicts rising not only from misunderstanding and ignorance, but from greater threats born of intolerance and hate.

Through this faith-focused action – driven by a common purpose – there's much to achieve beyond today's humanitarian acts.