Creating change, feeding the hungry in Hartford

Story & photos by Austin Price, Intern

Autumn has arrived in the Northeast, but earlier in the summer, some teenagers in Connecticut postponed trips to the beach to converge on their capital city.

Tim Reeve, manager of World Vision's Greater New York field site, directs young volunteers before they assemble Family Food Kits in Hartford, Connecticut.

Tim Reeve, manager of World Vision's Greater New York field site, directs young volunteers before they assemble Family Food Kits in Hartford, Connecticut.

They participated in The Hartford Project (THP), a four-day ministry immersion experience that provides hundreds of youth with opportunities to build relationships and experience their urban community.

For the past four years, THP connected youth with a network of 20 Hartford-area churches and organizations mobilized by Urban Alliance. Dave Brooker, president of Urban Alliance, says its mission is to "create opportunities for people to achieve lasting change in their lives through the collaborative work of churches and organizations in the local community."

The Urban Alliance network works in initiatives focused around health, children and youth, and basic needs.

By bringing youth together in Hartford for a week, Brooker says, staff at THP and Urban Alliance hope to provide "numerous opportunities for our youth attendees to forge friendships and gain fresh perspectives on our city that will have an impact on their lives."

This year, World Vision's Greater New York field site in the Bronx entered the collaboration.

Working in an assembly line, volunteers grab various kinds of packaged foods from boxes to place in a plastic bag, creating a Family Food Kit.

Working in an assembly line, volunteers grab various kinds of packaged foods from boxes to place in a plastic bag, creating a Family Food Kit.

"World Vision developed and managed a terrific service activity for our youth that involved building kits for distribution to the community," says Brooker.

At South Church on Hartford's Main Street, THP volunteers unloaded a truck from World Vision delivering food and hygiene kits to be packaged. In under two hours, the youth assembled nearly 300 Family Food Kits to be distributed that day in the Hartford-area community.

"For years, we've looked for a way to go beyond the five boroughs and serve more people," says Karon McFarlane, World Vision engagement officer for Greater New York. "We have always gone deeper into our community. Now we are encouraged to go wider."

At first glance, the Connecticut commuter city vastly differs from its bustling New York City neighbor. Yet statistics show a few commonalities. Nearly 34 percent of Hartford residents fall beneath the poverty line, a characteristic shared with only 10 percent of the state's population, according to the 2010 Census. A 2013 report based on Census figures by 24/7 Wall St. ranks Connecticut as the fourth-wealthiest state, but not without a significant asterisk: the largest income inequality gap in the nation, behind only New York.

A volunteer writes an encouraging note to tuck into the World Vision Family Food Kit. Each kit contains a recipe card and a handwritten note from the person who packed it.

A volunteer writes an encouraging note to tuck into the World Vision Family Food Kit. Each kit contains a recipe card and a handwritten note from the person who packed it.

The Hartford Project represents an effort of the suburban church's younger generation to rediscover its city despite the economic and societal differences.

"This is a bridge experience for them," says THP co-director Dave Ambrose. "My hope is that some of these kids love it here and want to come back on their own."

In the end, World Vision, THP, and Urban Alliance hope to see God transform an arena of poverty and inequality into a community of collective action.

"We are thrilled about participating in God's work in our community," says Urban Alliance Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Russell Jarvis, "through collaborative relationships with World Vision, local churches and ministries, and the community at large."

 

 

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