This year marked the 50th
anniversary of the United Methodist Economic Ministry
(UMEM), which, through its thrift shops, food pantries, and emergency assistance, serves those in need in rural Maine.
The ministry, one of the NEAC’s Advance Specials, held a celebration for supporters, volunteers, board members and staff to mark this milestone on Nov. 7, 2019 at Trinity UMC in Farmington, ME.
Mid-Maine District Superintendent Karen Munson led a worship service, during which she shared Romans 5:3-5:
“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
“People in this room have put a lot of your lives, resources, and prayers into [the UMEM],” Rev. Munson said. “What is it you’re hoping for?”
People offered their responses:
“That the ministry will go on …
… so that we can continue to serve those in need
… so hope endures and is passed on one person at a time
… so that people will be lifted out of poverty and able to do that which God wants for them
… so that the light of Christ shines on
… so that lives might continue to be transformed
… To take some of the burden off people who come in and make them strong enough to help take the burden off of others
… That one day we won’t be needed
Dan Dolan, who became president of the UMEM Board of Directors earlier this year, thanked all the ministry’s supporters, and said:
“It’s been a real blessing to be leading us through keeping this ministry sustainable and viable, because we know how important the work they do is.”
Dolan recalled Rev. Munson’s message on hope, saying: “You’re putting that [hope] in every bag and box that leaves the ministry.”
While the work is hard, Dolan said, that he knows each of them has heard many stories about the impact the work of UMEM has had on the people it serves.
“We know that for every [story] that we hear,” he said, “there are hundreds of others.”
UMEM Executive Director, Rev. Michele St. Cyr, shared one of those stories about a man who was helped by the ministry’s founders Rev. Charles and Norma Reid.
Rev. St. Cyr said this man, who worked in a local paper mill and later moved out of the area, continued to send cases of turkeys at Thanksgiving and hams at Christmas for distribution through the UMEM.
When asked why he did it, Rev. St. Cyr said, it was because the ministry “transformed his life.”
“He grew up a lonely kid. … Without the ministry, without Charles and Norma Reid, he would not have been fed enough or been warm enough or had enough supervision or love and care,” she said.
“Those are the relationships have happened over 50 years – one person at a time,” Rev. St. Cyr said.
Longtime staffer Yvonne Woodcock offered another story of how that relationship building is continuing.
When the federal government was shut down, a mother came into the food pantry hoping to get a cake (Hannaford supermarket and others sometimes donate cakes and baked goods).
They had no cakes that day, Woodcock said, but she could tell there was a reason this was important.
Woodcock learned the woman’s son was going to turn 5, and he wanted to bring a birthday cake to school to share with his classmates.
Woodcock baked the cake – along with candy treats for each student.
“She was so very thankful,” Woodcock said.
Rev. St. Cyr pointed out that this spurred a new feature at the food pantry: birthday bags.
The kits containing cake mix, frosting, etc. are kept on hand so no child - or adult - has to be without a birthday cake.
Rev. St. Cyr also presented the UMEM’s 2018 Annual Report, saying that the surrounding counties see a lot of food insecurity, including among the elderly.
Referring to the report, she said that by Oct. 15, 2018 the food pantries had already surpassed the number of individuals supported the year before with 2,280 served.
Rev. Munson said she sees the work of UMEM going far beyond even the many, many people they serve directly.
“I don’t know if you have any idea how many ministries you’ve inspired by what people see happening at United Methodist Economic Ministry,” she said. “But as I look out over the Mid-Maine District, I see a multiplication of ministries reaching out, many of which have been inspired by the kind of work they’ve seen at the United Methodist Economic Ministry. There’s a power in the character you’re producing … you’re holding up a hope that ripples out.”