Experiences, passion for service fit SHN director


By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

Matt Casteel has seen some things in his 25 years. He has traveled the world on mission trips, educational trips and work.

Casteel has seen what he calls “absolute” poverty and how it impacts people caught in its trap. Now he has an opportunity to do something about it.

Casteel has been hired as the program director at the new Stop Hunger Now warehouse located along U.S. 49 in Flowood. He will help organize and operate a variety of programs offered by Stop Hunger Now to try to relieve worldwide hunger, which is based in North Carolina.

“I had always known I would work in the line of service,” said Casteel, the son of the Rev. Steve Casteel, director of Connectional Ministries for the Mississippi Conference. “Coming back from (teaching English in) China and with the job market as it is, it was a pretty grim outlook.”

Casteel found out about the job on the internet. “I pursued it pretty hard. I know it’s something that I’m passionate about and that my next job would be at a non-profit organization,” he said.

Casteel said he researched Stop Hunger Now and liked that the organization appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds to focus on one cause.

With the 6,300-square-foot warehouse just getting started, funding is critical. This year’s mission offering at Annual Conference will aid the Stop Hunger Now warehouse and the Society of St. Andrew, another hunger-fighting agency.

“Start-up costs can be overwhelming,” Casteel said. “To have the Annual Conference donate half of the mission offering is our life blood here in the initial stages.”

With the opening of the warehouse, both Stop Hunger Now and Society of St. Andrew now have their area headquarters in the Jackson area. SoSA, led by Bob Fritchey, works out of space in Briarwood UMC.

Both offer a variety of services to provide food to the hungry. SoSA is most known for its field gleaning and potato drop programs. SoSA volunteers gather nutritious produce from farmers’ fields and orchards after the harvest. This food instead of being left behind to rot is delivered to those in need. The Potato & Produce Project salvages truck-loads of unmarketable potatoes and other produce donated by members of the agricultural community. This perfectly edible food is then delivered to agencies that serve the poor.

Both groups will also have service opportunities during Annual Conference. Stop Hunger Now will be packaging meals in Ballroom B starting today. On Saturday, SoSA plans a potato drop “with a twist” behind the Jackson Convention Complex.

Mississippi became involved with Stop Hunger Now in 2007 when Mike Ward, spouse of Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, helped organize several Operation Sharehouse events in the state. Ward is a former board member of Stop Hunger Now. Operation Sharehouse is a food packaging program where volunteers package meals that are sent to agencies such as schools around the world. In the past two years, Mississippi has packaged more than 200,000 meals.

“Both times (we had events), people repeatedly asked if we could do events in their community or with their organization,” Ward said. “It’s hard to respond to that heart-warming interest when the warehouse is located in North Carolina. With a warehouse in Mississippi, we could stage smaller and more frequent events in multiple locations.”

While the food packaging at Annual Conference marks the official start of the warehouse, Casteel said he’s already received inquiries from the Mississippi State University Wesley Foundation, the Mississippi United Methodist Student Movement, Gulfport civic clubs and a group in Texas about putting on events.

Casteel emphasized that Stop Hunger Now does not seek to compete with other organizations. He said while generally globally focused, Stop Hunger Now provides canned goods to local agencies when possible.