Churches and nonprofit organizations from all over Missouri met on Saturday at the Missouri State Fairgrounds’ Mathewson Exhibition Center for the 31st annual Festival of Sharing, an ecumenical event dedicated to connecting donations and people of service with those who need them the most.
At the festival, hundreds of church-goers, families and youth groups of many denominations gathered, bringing donations and “kits” of helpful items that they collected throughout the previous year, ranging from “Readin’ and Writin’ ” packs filled with school supplies to “IMA Medicine Boxes” stocked to serve 1,000 people with their basic medical needs.
Volunteers processed the kits for distribution to Missouri and international charities, and the Mathewson center was filled with inter-faith activities: church booths selling baked goods, nonprofit organizations raising awareness for their work, worship services and a quilt auction benefiting Church World Service, an international organization that also receives donations and kits from the festival.
At noon, 96 Missouri aid agencies, food pantries and shelters assembled to collect the kits and donations, including more than 85,000 pounds of donated rice, pinto beans and potatoes.
Terri Williams, associate director of the Festival of Sharing, said the day was going smoothly and she was excited about the great number of donations, especially food boxes, the festival received for distribution that afternoon. She estimated that the festival had doubled the amount of food boxes it would be able to provide to state agencies, but she said the need for food for families “struggling to make ends meet” was even greater.
“They indicated they need over 12,000 family food boxes,” she said of the agencies. “We spent a lot of time making that plea.”
Williams said she felt the festival played an important part in helping struggling families across the state, and she added that sharing one’s resources, the common goal that brought almost 2,000 total attendees to the event, was “part of what we’re called to do as people of faith.”
“Nothing is really ours,” Williams said. “We think that it is, but it’s just temporarily ours. So we share.”
On the parking lot outside the Mathewson center, youth groups sang spirituals as they took shifts unloading 42,000 pounds of potatoes from a semi truck to smaller agency vans and trailers for distribution statewide.
Tad Miner, a sponsor for youth groups from Cassville and Eagle Rock, said his group, like many, had come into Sedalia the night before for music, worship and other service projects. He said that events such as the Festival of Sharing were important because it was easy for youths to see the benefit of their work.
“Our youth groups both have a lot of new kids, so it’s their first time doing this,” said Miner, who said he was in his fifth or sixth year attending the festival. “I think the kids just feel really good doing it. They can see that they’re helping.”
The magnitude of the festival’s help was also apparent to Joyce Hollaway and Lucille Muemz, representatives from the Warrenton Saint Vincent De Paul Food Pantry, with the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Warrenton. Hollaway and Muemz were part of a group that traveled to Sedalia to pick up kits and food resources for the food pantry to redistribute to around 135 needy families per month.
They expressed their gratitude to the Festival of Sharing and all who donated to make it happen, saying donations were especially crucial in the fall months, when holiday meals and a variety of different opportunities for donors mean the pantry’s stores often run low.
“I think it’s important because sometimes we don’t get the food or donations. Every little bit helps,” Muemz said. “We are very thankful for it.”