TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Hundreds of people showed up to church Sunday morning in Southern Arizona, but they were not there to worship; instead they were focused on feeding thousands.
Four United Methodist churches teamed up with Outreach Inc. to package meals for hungry families in Tucson.
St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 8051 E. Broadway; Catalina United Methodist Church, 2700 E. Speedway; St. Mark's United Methodist Church, 1431 W. Magee Rd.; and Santa Cruz Valley United Methodist Church, 70 E. Sahuarita Rd.; gathered parishioners and volunteers to prepare meals of rice and beans, casseroles and macaroni and cheese. Their goal was to pack a combined total of 130,000 meals.
But this pack-a-thon had humble beginnings when St. Paul's launched it five years ago.
"It started with just a few tables that you see behind me, and now it is an entire gymnasium full," said volunteer Brian Sonnleitner.
This is the first year Santa Cruz Valley UMC is participating.
"If a church only exists for itself, then it is not the church that Jesus wants it to be. It must always be active in reaching out to community and making a difference in the lives of others, and that's the kind of church we want to be," said Santa Cruz Valley pastor Angie McCarty.
For volunteer Tara Barnes Kartzer, helping to end childhood hunger is something that is close her heart.
"My husband and I are schoolteachers. I know the need firsthand that exists in the classroom every day," she said. "In the Christmas and winter breaks, we know firsthand they are going home, they are hungry, and their families are hungry because that is an extra burden, so we want to do our part to help in that process."
And she is saddened to hear some staggering statistics.
"It is hard to hear that from a group of 12, three people would not be eating if not for food distribution like this. If I were to sit at home with my family, that would be three of my kids, and that would be very hard," she said.
All the food will be donated to the Salvation Army, Gospel Rescue Mission and Casa Maria soup kitchen.