Honoring 30 years of fighting hunger in Iowa

Jordan Bles | September 25, 2015

Russ Melby, center, is the 2015 recipient of the Robert D. Ray Iowa SHARES Iowa Humanitarian Award. Photo: Jordan Bles/CWS

Russ Melby, center, is the 2015 recipient of the Robert D. Ray Iowa SHARES Iowa Humanitarian Award. Photo: Jordan Bles/CWS

I have been working for Church World Service in Iowa for almost a year and a half now. Yet, the most common way I am introduced at CROP Hunger Walk planning meetings continues to be as,  “the next Russ Melby.” I really don’t think there could be any greater compliment. If I manage to do half of the work that the good Rev. Russ Melby accomplished in his 30 years supporting CROP Hunger Walks and the other ministries, I will feel very good about what I have been able to do.

I had the blessing to spend my first couple of weeks on the job traveling the state with Russ, as he made his last round to the planning meetings. During that time, I got to see just a glimpse of the work he had done. Across Iowa, he knew every road, and he knew every community. And you could feel the passion as he reminisced with committee members, many of whom he had recruited and done this work with for decades. Over 30 years in Iowa, Russ involved more than 500,000 people and raised around $12 million dollars to end hunger and poverty locally and globally. My time with Russ was a powerful reminder of just how much of a difference one person can make, with God’s help.

Last Thursday, I got to be present as Russ was introduced as the 2015 recipient of the Robert D. Ray Iowa SHARES Humanitarian Award from the World Food Prize. He will formally be given the award during the Iowa Hunger Summit on October 13. I can honestly not think of a better recipient of this award. I inherited 82 walks in the state of Iowa alone — and Russ’ biggest regret was that he didn’t leave with a Walk in all 99 counties. He was tireless, he was passionate and he still believes in the mission of Church World Service.

I don’t think there is a justice related committee in the Ames and Des Moines area that Russ does not, or has not, served on. Not all of us get to live our calling, but it is clear to me that Russ got to do just that. Through the Walk volunteers who still talk about how they were inspired by him, to the Walks that are in great shape because of him, or through Russ still serving as a volunteer on the Ames CROP Hunger Walk committee – you can see God doing work through the hands and feet of Russ.

Russ’ witness is a constant reminder that all of us who participate in the life of CWS are here not for a job or out of obligation. Whether we work for CWS, volunteer on a Walk committee, or give of our funds, we are doing work that God calls us to.

On Thursday, Russ referenced 2 Corinthians 5:13, and said, “I am persuaded God continues to work in the world through people of good will […] to meet the goal that all are fed.” Somehow I think, 30 years from now, I might still be introduced as “the next Russ Melby.” And, I will still think it is one of the best compliments I have ever received.

Jordan Bles is a community engagement specialist with CWS.