Church youth teams up with museum to bring awareness to local hunger issues

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By Tia Lynn Lecorchick managing editor

Charity has never been so creative. The Steffen Thomas Museum of Art (STMA) has teamed up with the youth groups of Madison Baptist Church and Madison Presbyterian Church, to collect food for the needy and to raise awareness about hunger through art. All food donations will be transported to the Caring Place, a local food bank in Madison, in January. Until then, the food labyrinth is built and ready for visitors to explore and ponder the ways in which hunger can be combated anywhere and everywhere. The STMA and the local youth groups constructed a “food labyrinth” in the STMA main gallery on Sunday, Dec. 7 entitled “SOULfood: A Labyrinth Walk Toward the End of Hunger.” The labyrinth was built out donated food items, before being sent to the Caring Place, a local food bank in Madison. Labyrinths, historically, have been used in various religious traditions and spiritual endeavors to peacefully reflect and meditate. The STMA and partnering youth groups hoped people would not just donate food, but ponder the state of hunger. “We are so delighted that these two youth groups, representing Madison Baptist Church and Madison Presbyterian Church are working with STMA to prayerfully focus on the problem of hunger in our own community and around the world.  Steffen Thomas was an artist whose works often addressed difficult subjects and a person who believed in the brotherhood of man.  I’m sure he would be as moved as we are to be working with these thoughtful young people in order to assist The Caring Place in their mission to feed the hungry in Morgan County,” explained Karen Strelecki, director of the STMA.   “It is inspirational to see the young people of our community gather together to create an art piece that nourishes both physical and spiritual hunger. Our hope is that folks in the community will use the labyrinth as a retreat during this busy time of year,” said Amanda Prochaska, Minister with Youth, Madison Presbyterian Church. “It’s a contemplative holiday experience,” said Angelina Bellebuono, a marketing representative for the STMA. “Through January 3, any visitor to the museum who brings a non-perishable food donation will be admitted free of charge and can tour the state’s only single artist museum, visit the museum’s holiday gift shop and walk the labyrinth, all while helping to combat hunger in the region…The local food bank faces high demand and low supplies.” According to Bellebuono, she came up with the idea for a food labyrinth after seeing one created by the Sautee-Nacoochee Center in December 2012. She suggested the STMA do one for charity to Strelecki. The two soon decided to invite the youth groups from local churches to participate in the collaborative installation of the labyrinth, explained Bellebuono. Both Doug Adkins (Madison Baptist) and Amanda Prochaska (Madison Pres) expressed an interest in being a part of the project, and immediately after Thanksgiving, they begin working with their youth and their respective congregations to begin gathering non-perishable food items for creating the basic structure of the labyrinth. As part of the project, Adkins’ daughter, Lydia, who is a MCHS junior and a member of the MBC youth, teamed up with Bellebuono to visit the Caring Place during their distribution time and collect the stories of some of the recipients. Lydia took the interviews and turned them into anecdotes to use with portraits shot by Bellebuono to incoporate as part of the labyrinth. In order to add depth to the actual labyrinth experience, the youth groups did research about hunger prior to the building of the labyrinth. When the groups gathered at the museum Sunday, December 7, to design and build the labyrinth, they came armed with information about hunger on regional, national and global levels. They took that information and created statistic cards and meditation prompts to set out as part of the labyrinth. The parents of the youth prepared chili and sandwiches for their dinners, and the church buses transported the youth to the museum, where they learned briefly about the artist Steffen Thomas and had time to tour the museum’s holiday exhibit, Steffen Thomas: The Sacred and Profound, Art for the Holidays in the West Gallery of the Museum.  Selected for their religious and philosophical themes, these works span decades of this Thomas’ creative life and they provided perspective on human kind and our relationship with each other, mother nature, and a higher power- however that is defined.  Adkins and Prochaska presented a brief history of the labyrinth’s role in Christianity, which, when built into the floors of old cathedrals, offered spiritual seekers a way to take a prayerful pilgrimage without the trek to Jerusalem, explained Adkins. He and Prochaska encouraged the participants to think about the prayerful aspects of a labyrinth as they worked, and the youth divided into groups according to their interests and talents. More than half of the group wanted to design and build the labyrinth, and the other half worked on designing and writing prompts. Parents Forest Pagett and Denise Crowley assisted the group in laying out the labyrinth with rope in the museum’s main gallery, first, then setting up non-perishables in the pattern. Cans and boxes were used to create structural elements, and as the labyrinth took shape, prompts and the story-pictures were added. Lastly, the group gathered to set the lights into place. Using teamwork, they taped the lights down and were able to match the lights perfectly to the length of the labyrinth. Dinner was served, and then the group posed in the labyrinth for a picture before heading back to their respective churches. The labyrinth is open to the public during regular museum hours, and with a non-perishable donation, admission to the museum is waived. The museum is located at 4200 Bethany Road in Buckhead, GA 30625. Hours of operation are Tues. – Sat. 11 AM – 4 PM.  PH: 706-342-7557  The Museum’s holiday hours are as follows: Open Tuesday Dec. 2, closed Dec. 24-26 (open Sat. Dec. 27) open Tuesday Dec. 30 closed Dec. 31 – Jan 2 (open Sat. Jan 3).

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