Collaboration at heart of food drive

Collaboration at heart of food drive

By Wendy Skellenger | Hutchinson Community Foundation


It started with a dream.

The dream became a simple idea.

And the simple idea opened a gateway to collaboration to meet a community need.

If you drive past them from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 14, you may notice the lights glowing from the sanctuary windows of Bethany Nazarene Church, Center Amish Mennonite Church, Community Church of the Brethren, Crosspoint Church, Eastwood Church of Christ, Emanuel Lutheran, First Church of the Nazarene, First Mennonite Church, First Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church, Grace Episcopal Church, New Covenant Presbyterian Church, Park Place Christian Church, Holy Cross Catholic Church and Trinity United Methodist Church.

Those lights will serve as a beacon call to help those in need this Thanksgiving – and throughout the holidays. During those two hours, the public may drop off donations at any of the 15 participating churches in a collection effort for the Reno County Food Bank.

Churches collect more than 4,000 pounds of food

“We’ll Leave Our Lights On” began forming over a year ago when a member of First Presbyterian Church envisioned all of Hutchinson’s churches illuminated at the same time for a common purpose. He brought the idea to the missions committee at First Presbyterian, but the purpose and timing hadn’t yet aligned.

That patience to wait for the right opportunity, however, was rewarded when Beth Southern, a missions committee member at First Presbyterian, saw a chance to present the idea to the Poverty Collaborative Task Force, of which she is also a member and of which the above 15 named churches are a part.

“We all knew each other from our collaborative training, and I just said something one time and people talked about it,” Southern said.

In only a month, all 15 churches agreed to take part in the food drive, with some churches electing to take the effort a step further by offering other activities too. Live organ music will fill First Presbyterian’s sanctuary, and First Mennonite Church will serve soup to those dropping off food donations.

Southern called the response from the community “wonderful,” with Colorado artist Betony Coons, who hails from the Little River and Hutchinson areas, volunteering to design the informational poster that was distributed to churches, businesses and the media. Buhler-based IdeaTek also stepped in to help with promotion via its electronic billboards posted around the city, according to Southern.

“It’s all very simple, but it’s happening simultaneously,” said Susan Buttram, Hutchinson Community Foundation Board of Directors chairperson and member of First Presbyterian’s missions committee. “It was not anything anybody had to overthink. There’s no program other than somebody’s got to flip on the lights and somebody’s got to be there to receive food.”

Southern credits the relationships and trust forged during the monthly May-through-October meetings of the Poverty Collaborative Task Force, along with a catalyzing Hutchinson Community Foundation 2017 Fund for Hutchinson grant that allowed the group to employ local coach and consultant Ron Fisher, with helping make the dream a reality.

“I think the biggest miracle is that through that collaboration,” she said, “we kind of cut through some structure within those churches and people really wanted to see that this is done within their own churches. So it’s pretty cool.”

The task force formed in the fall of 2016 to find ways to reach across sectors in addressing the needs of those living in poverty following First Presbyterian’s community-wide poverty simulation. The group is made up of people connected to nonprofits, civic groups, churches and people who have experienced poverty.

Southern said the food drive project was energizing to the task force and that it was “an easy do for our first time.” She hopes the effort will expand in the future, perhaps including even more churches, and that it serves as a stepping stone to larger collaborative work for the task force.

“We’re meeting the needs of those in the community who are hungry, but over and above, it’s just wonderful to see the churches working together,” Southern said.

Buttram agreed.

“We talk a lot at the community foundation about collaboration,” she said. “I hope it’s [the food drive] something we can continue annually and it just kind of continues to grow.”

Wendy Skellenger is the communications officer at Hutchinson Community Foundation. Email: