St. John’s Youth Fast for the Hungry

South Charlotte Weekly

St. John’s youth gather in front of the church to build their cardboard village, where they slept on Feb. 27, as a part of the 30-Hour Famine service project and fundraiser.  Photo courtesy of St. John’s Episcopal Church

Seventy-one sixth through twelfth graders in St. John’s Episcopal Church’s youth ministry in south Charlotte fasted for 30 hours during their 16th annual 30-Hour Famine to raise money for World Vision on Feb. 27 and 28.

Youth Minister Matt Williams said their partnership with World Vision, a faith-based humanitarian relief organization that provides basic necessities and education to children and families in 100 countries, started with former Youth Minister Brian Filldorff but has continued because of the youth’s support for the cause.

“If they weren’t excited, it wouldn’t have made it this far,” Williams said. “The youth really take over on this project. It’s become a church rite of passage … third, fourth and fifth graders cannot wait to do it.”

A team of 15 youth leaders began planning this year’s famine in January. The group raised more than $53,500 this year and reached a total of $1 million raised since the partnership began.

Hilary Hilpert, spokesperson for World Vision, said St. John’s is the first church to reach $1 million.

“Having dedicated partners like St. John’s serves as a great reminder that the fight against global hunger is still relevant and critical, and thankfully, there are people who want to be part of the solution,” she said.

Williams said the youth group does more than raise money and go without food. He said it’s an all-night event with games, worship services and sleeping outside in a cardboard village.

“One to two years after we started the famine, one youth member made the point that most people who are hungry also have other problems; they decided to sleep in cardboard houses to get the full experience,” he said.

After sleeping outside, the youth wake up hungry but ready to serve. Williams said youth leaders choose two different service projects every year, where they can volunteer locally during the famine.

This year, the group supported Love INC and completed yard work for two elderly individuals. They also packed boxes of shoes and socks at Samaritan’s Feet.

The fast began on Feb. 27 at noon and ended Feb. 28 at 6 p.m., with a southern comfort meal of fried chicken and mac-n-cheese. Williams said they all started “getting cranky” between the 25th and 28th hour mark, but that’s when they really focused on their purpose.

“We worship and hone in on why we are doing this … to help others who are starving all over the world,” he said.

Matthew Jordan is a freshman at Charlotte Latin School. This is his fourth year participating in the famine. He said the biggest challenge always “is the last two hours because you can smell the food from the kitchen and you know the fast is almost over, so it’s really temping to eat something.”  

Justin Mullis, an eighth-grader at Cuthbertson Middle School, said, “The hardest part about the famine is keeping your mind off the hunger. While you are preoccupied with activities planned prior to the event, you still are being eaten away by the hunger. This makes you slow down to conserve energy, and overall, it’s hard to block the hunger out of your mind.”

Justin said completing the fast made him thankful for his family and good fortune.

“While we have fun going hungry for 30 hours, many people don’t think of it as fun, they think of it as life,” he said. “They live life like this on a daily basis; they live to survive to tomorrow.”

Emma Burri, an 18-year-old south Charlotte resident and Providence Day student, completed her seventh year in St. John’s famine.

“Nothing compares to spending a freezing night in a cardboard box with your stomach rumbling,” Emma said. “You really understand how lucky we are in this part of the world.”

Williams has been the youth minister at St. John’s for a decade and has been volunteering with youth since they started the famine. He said it’s been fun to watch it grow exponentially with the generations of lives touched at St. John’s.

“We have people who were part of the famine years ago come back and volunteer as adult advisers to help keep the mission alive,” he said. “Some have gone on to create famines at other churches.”

Williams said his predecessor started a program at Trinity Episcopal in Columbia, South Carolina and a former youth member at St. John’s Elizabeth Pfeiffer started doing the famine at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Waxhaw.

St. Margaret’s joined St. John’s youth group for the closing program of their 30-hour famine. Most organizations participating in the famine do so on one of two national 30-hour famine dates in February and April.

Pfeiffer, youth director at St. Margaret’s, said five years of participation in the famine at St. John’s was part of the reason she became dedicated to working within the church.

“It showed me the impact that one person can have,” she said.

Pfieffer added it was inspiring to be a part of St. John’s 16th 30-hour famine.

“I was very proud to see St John’s and St Margaret’s working together, believing in and investing in a group of teens … keeping the tradition alive and giving teens a chance to serve and better the world around them.”

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