By Mary Elizabeth Dial , Staff Correspondent
The ecumenical Hymns for Hunger concert filled the sanctuary of Gadsden First United Methodist Church last Sunday, March 5, for the third year in a row. Choir members from 12 churches in Gadsden and Rainbow City came together to perform hymns and classical pieces under the direction of GFUMC’s Russ Waits.
The free event accepted donations of money and canned goods to be given to the Etowah County Community Food Bank. The money, which amounted to over $1,400, and the food items will be used to support the Love Center Family Shelter, the Etowah Baptist Mission Center, the Salvation Army of Gadsden and the Way of the Cross as they replenish supplies from the rush of the winter holidays.
This year’s collection was the largest of the event’s history, almost five times as much money as it gained in its first year. Surprisingly, the concert itself shrank since last year, largely due to scheduling conflicts.
“We had a smaller choir than we had last year,” said organizer and GFUMC organist Benny McNair. “I think the crowd was [also] smaller this year… One thing’s for sure, the people who were there enjoyed it.”
There was plenty to enjoy about the concert. In addition to the choir, it featured a pianist, McNair on GFUMC’s impressive pipe organ, two trumpeters and a special finale by Gadsden Police Lt. Wayne Hammond performing Amazing Grace on bagpipes. A reception immediately after the concert provided cookies, punch and conversation.
In its first year, Hymns for Hunger was held in late January in an attempt to provide more immediate support after Christmas. The event was moved to March last year, affording more time for rehearsals and preparation as well as avoiding beginning-of-year scheduling conflicts with the various churches. The choice to move the event to later in the year also ensured better weather and helped the concert to grow.
“It’s grown a little bit each year,” McNair said. The choir proved to be too large for the choir loft and overflowed onto the pulpit, and volunteers had to bring out folding chairs for concertgoers who arrived after the pews had filled.
Gadsden First United Methodist has been the home of Hymns for Hunger since its beginnings. In addition to its central downtown location, which gives it a front-row seat to the problems facing Gadsden’s homeless community, the church’s historic sanctuary was refurbished only a couple of years before the first Hymns for Hunger concert, with the new slate floors resulting in a remarkable improvement in sound quality.
The music was well performed and thoroughly enjoyed by attendees, but organizers and concertgoers alike kept their focus on the cause.
“The need keeps growing,” said McNair, referring to the growing population of homeless and hungry individuals in Etowah County. “If there’s a need, we try to fill it.”
The mission to keep filling needs means that Hymns for Hunger is here to stay. Choir members were particularly excited to start preparing and planning for next year.
“If we’re all living and breathing next year, we’ll do it again,” McNair promised. With any luck, local music lovers will continue to support Hymns for Hunger for years to come.