Tragic fire isn't stopping church's commitment to help the world's hungry

The loss of an historic Mayfield, N.Y. church building this week to lightning and a devastating fire is not stopping a congregation's determination to help the world's hungry. A scheduled CROP Hunger Walk will continue this Sunday (May 1), despite Thursday's fire that destroyed the Mayfield Presbyterian Church, another of the tragic losses of this week's brutal multi-state assault of storms and tornadoes.

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The blaze destroyed the church food pantry.
Photo: Carol Cownie

MAYFIELD, N.Y. – The loss of an historic Mayfield, N.Y. church building this week to lightning and a devastating fire is not stopping a congregation's determination to help the world's hungry.

A scheduled CROP Hunger Walk will continue this Sunday (May 1), despite Thursday’s fire that destroyed the Mayfield Presbyterian Church, another of the tragic losses of this week’s brutal multi-state assault of storms and tornadoes.

The upstate New York church housed a community food pantry and was the meeting point for the local CROP Hunger Walk, one of the country’s oldest such charity walks and one of some 1,600 walks held yearly across the U.S. which support both local hunger programs as well as the global hunger and poverty work of humanitarian agency Church World Service.

On Sunday, Mayfield CROP walkers will start out on schedule, but from a tent set up outside the church’s charred structure (1:00 PM, Mayfield Presbyterian Church, 22 North Main Street).

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CWS CEO John McCullough rallies the determined Mayfield CROP Walkers.
Photo: Carol Cownie

"It wasn't even a question that we'd continue the walk," Rev. Bonnie Orth, the Mayfield church's pastor, said today. "It didn't even cross our mind not to do it. This is a very mission-minded church, and if anyone can get through this, it's this church.

"People know the church isn't just the building," she said. For now, the congregation will meet at the Mayfield Methodist Church, across the street from the destroyed Presbyterian church. Orth said she expects the church will rebuild.

Carol Cownie, who heads missions outreach work at Mayfield Presbyterian Church, said she does not know how many people will participate in the Sunday walk, but expects that community support for the church, its work and the food pantry will be strong.

"We actually need the CROP Hunger Walk this weekend, to pull us together," she said Friday, adding: "We're a church that hangs together. It's the kind of church we are.”

Cownie said it is not yet clear where the food pantry will relocate in the community, but that support for the walk will underscore the need for a food pantry in the community of about 6,400 people. Twenty-five percent of the money raised during the Sunday walk will go to the Mayfield food pantry.

"Yes, the church burned down, but the big news is that the church is not a building but the people who do the work of the church with or without a building," said Douglas Anderson, regional director for CWS and CROP Hunger Walks in upstate New York.

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The building is gone but the Mayfield congregation is still strong.
Photo: Carol Cownie

‘One of poorest per capita income counties in region'

"This is perfect testimony to heroic volunteers who believe in us so very much," he said, "and in the purpose for which we exist, serving the neediest people on the planet, abroad, and at home in rural, poverty-stricken Fulton County of upstate New York, one of the poorest per capita income counties in our region."

Anderson, whose agency is currently urging Congress not to slash domestic and foreign aid food programs in the 2012 federal budget, said the loss of even one food pantry for Fulton County is significant and a “microcosm of why in these times our nation must continue to provide assistance for those who are most in need.”

Media Contact:
Lesley Crosson, 212-870-2676, lcrosson@churchworldservice.org
Jan Dragin, 781-925-1526, jdragin@gis.net


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