Transforming lives: Minneapolis' Mount Olivet forms partnerships to feed hungry kids
by John Klawiter, M.Div. '12
As the pastor of membership, community outreach and men’s ministry at Minneapolis’ Mt. Olivet, the largest ELCA church in Minnesota, Bill MacLean, ’11, receives numerous requests for financial support.
“We get a lot of calls from people and worthwhile organizations wanting money,” says MacLean, a former U.S. Bank executive who calls himself a “recovering CPA.” Before partnering with a person or organization, he says, the church requires that two criteria are met.
“We need to have a member who is an advocate for the organization and then, we need opportunities for member engagement,” MacLean says. “We aren’t in the business of handing out money, but in transformation and changing lives.”
In one recent case, the chance to transform lives came through Rob Williams, executive director of The Sheridan Story. The organization was created in 2010 when Williams learned that kids were stealing food from their schools on Friday so that they had something to eat over the weekend. Sheridan Story responded to this need by creating a network of weekend food programs.
Williams asked MacLean and Mt. Olivet to participate in helping kids in their own community who were hungry.
A high percentage of students at nearby Washburn High School were food insecure and disadvantaged. “This surprised a lot of our members,” says MacLean, noting that the school once had a reputation for having many wealthy students. “Now, our congregation is shocked by how food insecure it is there.”
Mt. Olivet teamed up with the local synagogue, Shir Tikvah, and its rabbi, Michael Latz, to work with Sheridan Story. The congregations began providing meals to Washburn and Ramsey Junior High in 2013, but the program didn’t gain the hoped for momentum.
Instead of giving up, however, the partners shifted their focus to a younger population, where the students were more likely to utilize the program on a regular basis.
“We’ve begun a relationship with Green Central Elementary because they had a need,” MacLean says. “Now we have 47 elementary school kids signed up. It’s a weekend program since, during the week, they’re covered [and have meals provided] by the school district.”
The students receive a plastic bag filled with nutritious food that lasts through the weekend. Homeless shelters don’t allow the kids to bring the food in, so the majority of students live in an apartment, with parents who may be struggling or with another relative.
“[The response] proved to me that there was a need,” MacLean says of the decision to work with the younger population. “Maybe it was their age, but we wanted an ongoing, encouraging relationship, and we wanted them to have a place to hang and talk. We hand out the food on Friday morning. … We’re still figuring out the [partnership with] Green Central, but it’s fun to serve with Shir Tikvah because we both strongly believe in serving our community.”
For MacLean, it’s been quite a circuitous route from business lunches in the boardrooms to handing out bags of food to kids in classrooms.
“I chose to go into the field of accounting in college, but I can’t for the life of me understand why. I’m an extrovert, but as a CPA, I was isolated and doing cubical work. For years the world of institutional sales and trading was exhilarating and lucrative. But at the height of this career I was wrestling with God over a different calling,” he says. “I wasn’t at peace because I hadn’t been obedient of God’s sense of calling to go into ministry.”
In 2004, he started at Luther Seminary, but continued working full time until his internship year at Bethlehem Lutheran in Minneapolis. And now, as one of eight pastors on staff at Mt. Olivet, he’s found a way to use his financial background in his ministry work. The partnership with The Sheridan Story and Shir Tikvah is just one example of how MacLean has found his calling.
“I just believe that by literally being the hands and feet of Christ in the community, it impacts the person receiving, but I also think it impacts the person giving even more—they don’t see it until it happens,” he says.
To learn more about The Sheridan Story, visit www.TheSheridanStory.com.