Four Iowa City churches compete, raise money for Crisis Center

BY JOE HITCHON | JUNE 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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What started last summer as a friendly competition among three local churches to donate as many food items as possible to the Johnson County Crisis Center has expanded this year to include more churches.

This year, four Iowa City churches are involved in the competition to see which of their Vacation Bible School programs can donate the most food items to the Crisis Center Food Bank's Thanksgiving in July summer food drive.

Beth Ritter Ruback, the Crisis Center communications and development director, said friendly competitions such as this are great for bringing in donations and can be a big boost to community-wide food drives.

"We think a friendly competition is a great idea and a fun way to get young people involved and excited about giving," she said.

Thanksgiving in July is the largest food drive of the summer at the Crisis Center and is a vital assistance to many community members who find themselves facing a higher cost of living during that time.

"The summer is a particularly important time for these kinds of coordinated food drives, because a lot of families find themselves facing increased childcare costs and increased food costs with the kids home from school," said Sarah Benson Witry, an emergency assistance director at the Crisis Center. "Food drives like Thanksgiving in July can help offset those increased needs for families."

Beth Gier, the director of Christian education at the First Presbyterian Church, said this is the first year her church has participated in the competition, but the church has incorporated a food drive into its vacation Bible school program for at least the last 12 years.

"We communicate the message of sharing with both the kids and the parents," she said. "Our goal is to teach the kids they can demonstrate God's love for others by sharing, and we know there are families in our community that are in need."

While Gier estimates her church donated around 350 items to the Crisis Center last year, the members hope to collect at least 500 items this year.

The Presbyterians face some stiff competition — Parkview Evangelical Free raised the stakes by donating almost 600 nonperishable items to the Crisis Center last week, collected during its vacation Bible school program.

Karen Reitz, a vacation Bible school volunteer at Zion Lutheran, said last year's competition collected 1,200 food items among the three churches, and the members hope to see that number increase by bringing more vacation Bible school programs into the competition.

"This year we chose a theme of 'loving and helping your neighbor' for our program," she said.

Zion Lutheran has also sought other ways to get young people more enthusiastic about the food drive, including introducing a fun trophy into the competition and also collecting food items according to color.

Stephanie Kroeger, a vacation Bible school volunteer at Trinity Episcopal, said it was the church's first year participating in the food drive, but all of the kids will be rewarded regardless of which church wins.

"We want the kids to learn the value of helping others, so each vacation Bible school program will get a prize and get their picture taken for participating," she said.

Witry said the goal for the food drive this summer is 40,000 food items. Canned fruits and vegetables, soups, canned meats, pasta and rice are among the items most needed.

"We have already served 11,000 people this year, so with numbers like that, all donations are welcome," she said.

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