by Melanie Zuercher
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Serving together may be one of the best ways for people to learn to know and appreciate each other.
So service was an important part of “Bethel Bridge,” a beginning-of-the-year program Bethel College designed to help new students feel at home.
Bethel Bridge was inaugurated Aug. 18-19. On Aug. 18, the official first day of the semester, instead of classes, all students attended the annual opening-of-school convocation, then went to seminars geared to particular needs (e.g., transfer students; major areas).
On the morning of Aug. 19, after a special convocation on discipleship, the campus community worked to package 50,000 meals to be given to the Harvey County Food Pantry.
Matt Hein, assistant director of development who wrote a successful United Way grant to support the project, reported the number from sign-up sheets as 450, starting with the men’s soccer team, who helped unload the truck with supplies and set up the Memorial Hall gym for the packaging.
Since service is one of Bethel’s four core values, when Bethel administrators were planning Bethel Bridge, “we wanted to do a project as a way of reinforcing the importance of service, something that would involve all students,” said Brad Born, vice president for academic affairs.
“We remembered the success of the food packaging we did after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010,” he continued. “So we turned to Rick McNary for ideas.”
McNary, a Bethel graduate, founded Numana Inc., the organization that sponsored Bethel’s 2010 meal-packaging event. McNary suggested Outreach, headquartered in Union, Iowa.
Originally begun in 2004 as a mission to people in Tanzania, Outreach now works “to provide safe water, food, medical care and education to children and those in need at home and abroad,” according to its website.
Rick McNary is a vice president of the organization and one of his sons, Isaac McNary, organizes food-packaging events for Outreach, including the one at Bethel.
Born said at first event planners thought the food packages would go to various locations. But when they contacted Barbara Lee at Harvey County’s Salvation Army office, she said the food pantry could take all 50,000.
At the Aug. 19 convocation, new campus pastor Peter Goerzen noted, “Shared practices define and unite us much more than doctrines or belief. The life of discipleship is shaped by practice that engages heart, mind and body.”
The student body was then divided in half, with the first group working until they completed 25,000 packages before switching with the second group.
To add a little extra fun, the groups competed to see which one could reach their 25,000 goal in the shortest time.
Juniors Jennifer Kaufman, Moundridge, and Tanesha Cayton, Keyes, Oklahoma, both softball players, enjoyed the competition aspect.
“It was fun, because we’re so competitive,” Kaufman said, and Cayton added, “It didn’t seem like work. Students were more engaged.”
“We were the first table done,” said Kamen Hinzman, freshman from Wichita. “Our group worked well together.”
Group 1 finished in 39 minutes. Group 2 took a bit longer, but all 50,000 packages of rice and beans or macaroni and cheese were in boxes being loaded onto the Outreach truck before noon.
Erin Regier, junior from Newton, thought the food packaging was “a way for people to get connected to the community [by giving the food away locally]. Service is one of Bethel’s core values, so it was good to have the opportunity to put that into practice.”
“[A service project] brings people together,” said Ryan Peete, sophomore from Newton. “And you’re doing something for somebody else.”
“It’s exciting to be able to help others,” added Sybella Sandoval, freshman from San Antonio, Texas.
“A service project was a good way to start the year,” said Julia Campfield, junior from Wray, Colorado, “a good way to see new faces. Wearing those aprons and hats gave everyone a chance to look silly and act like a kook right away, so it doesn’t matter later.”
“I wish we’d do more of these,” said Ally Chesbrough, sophomore from Leawood. “Once people got going, they really liked it. And it’s a good way to learn about being selfless, giving without getting anything in return.”
Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.