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Fast is a quick way to absorb biblical lesson

In La Cañada Flintridge, youth members of a church give up food for a weekend and sleep outdoors on a winter night as part of a food drive.

March 02, 2009|Joanna Lin

As he stood outside the grocery store, Colin Sneddon, 12, stared longingly at the display of potato chips.

"It's torture," he said, sandwiched between neon green poster boards reading, "I Have Not Eaten in 19 Hours. Ask Me Why." He was nearing hour 20.

Colin was among more than a dozen children and teenagers who fasted for 30 hours this weekend in La Canada Flintridge, raising money and collecting food for the hungry. Nearly 500,000 youngsters across the country were expected to participate in 30 Hour Famine this year, held annually by the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision.

Colin and other youngsters began their fast at 12:30 p.m. Friday and on Saturday gathered outside a Ralphs grocery store, asking shoppers to donate food or money.

World Vision hoped to raise $12.5 million this year, up from last year's $12.2 million. By the event's kickoff, participants had collected more than $1 million. Although the fast takes place over 30 hours, the fundraising goes on all year.

The money will buy food for countries in need, including Malawi, Uganda and Haiti, according to Myrna Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for World Vision. In La Canada Flintridge, food collected in the drive will be donated to MEND's Emergency Foodbank in Pacoima. MEND, or Meet Each Need with Dignity, is a nonprofit that provides food, clothing and medical services to area residents who live below the federal poverty level.

Though fundraising is a critical aspect of 30 Hour Famine, organizers also aim to give young people a sense of what it's like to be poor and hungry. During the fast, youth group members at La Canada United Methodist Church drank only fruit juices and slept in cardboard boxes outdoors, where temperatures dropped to the mid-40s overnight.

Perched on a dirt hill behind the church, participants spread out blue tarps and attached their cardboard huts to the tarps with duct tape. Some huts were barely larger than their inhabitants, while others were as spacious as a queen-size bed. About 10 yards away, cars zoomed by on the 210 Freeway.

Although they were sleeping in makeshift homes, some participants were not without their creature comforts: Some brought stuffed animals, others digital cameras. A laptop computer shuffled through music, playing the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" as the youngsters built their shelters.

Fifth-grader Chris Henry's cardboard dwelling was supported with rocks and was just long enough for him to roll out his sleeping bag inside.

By spending the night there, Chris said, he could learn how children without heated homes like his in La Canada Flintridge feel.

"Then you multiply that by 365 days a year," he said. "It makes you want to help the world even more."

Chris, 11, said his goal was to raise $365 -- enough money to feed one child for a year, according to World Vision. He raised more than $400 in two weeks.

"The more money you've raised, the longer they'll live," he said. "I never even thought I'd make it to 360."

A first-time participant in 30 Hour Famine, Chris looked to his older sister, Katharine, as an example. She fasted last year and led the group in fundraising this year, collecting about $1,000 in a month.

Katharine, 13, said seeing World Vision's videos of hungry children inspired her to get involved.

"You see these kids who are, like, so starving and so hungry," she said. When they receive food, "They have these huge smiles on their faces, and it's like, whoa! I'm going to give them that."

Providing food for those in need is spiritually rewarding, Katharine said, citing a passage from the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible: "For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. . . . The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "

"By helping other people, I'm helping God," Katharine said. "I'm giving food to kids, I'm giving food to God."

By Saturday morning, the youngsters huddled together and compared notes on the night before.

"It was so cold," said one.

"I dreamed of my bed," said another.

Before the participants walked about a mile to the Ralphs for their food drive, the church pastor, the Rev. Sunny Pak, led them in a prayer.

"Think about what God is telling me to learn," she said, as they formed a circle and bowed their heads.

"Even though our body is tired, our spirit is up."

Placing 30 Hour Famine in a spiritual context helps youths understand why they fast and spend the night in cardboard boxes, Gutierrez said.

"Youth groups can process the experience: What does this mean in the context of the Gospel of Jesus?" she said. "It's not just, let's play homeless tonight. . . . It's a spiritual recognition of what the Gospel calls us to do."

Alex Berry, a sophomore at Glendale High School, said that although he had a baseball game to play during the final stretch of the fast, he participated because "service is a big part of being a Christian."

There's a stereotype of churchgoers being removed from the world, he said.

"By getting outside," he said, "we're really out caring about other people."


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