December 6, 2012
Pennies from Heaven...
Lakeland Churches Run Symbolic Penny & Prayer Drive to Urge Publix to Join Fair Food Program
Our flagship video is continuing to make the rounds, meriting kudos in the Twitterverse from both Grammy-award winning guitarist Tom Morello and actress Olivia Wilde!
So don't forget to keep sharing that important message through your own email, Facebook, and Twitter networks as we head into the holiday season.
But before the holidays wrap us fully in their warm embrace, we want to take a quick look back at a special action that took place two weeks ago, because when big news stories keep rolling in like they have of late, sometimes the more quiet -- but still truly noteworthy -- events can get lost in the wash.
One such action that didn't get its due the first time around was the beautifully creative protest organized by the congregants of several Lakeland churches for the Thanksgiving Week of Supermarket Action (pictured above). The idea for their action was spawned earlier this fall when theologian Brian McLaren, named one of the nation's "most influential Evangelicals" by Time magazine, spoke together with the CIW's Lucas Benitez at an interdenominational gathering in Lakeland - Publix's hometown - to press the need for people of faith to stand up and do justice. Following this talk, eight Lakeland churches resolved to hold a "Penny and Prayer Drive" in order to convey to the city's principal employer, Publix, their wish that the grocer immediately join the Fair Food Program.
In the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, participating churches set shiny red tomato buckets in the entries of their sanctuaries to symbolically collect the pennies, while ministers invited parishioners from the pulpit during worship services to take part in the sacred call to foster justice where it matters most. One church bulletin insert titled "Pennies And Prayers for the Fair Food Program" stated:
"[W]e prayerfully invite Publix Supermarkets to expand their good works by becoming a Fair Food leader within the supermarket industry ... We honor farmworkers' contributions by joining other Lakeland congregations in collecting pennies that represent our shared hope that Publix might soon join the Fair Food Program, taking moral leadership within the supermarket industry."
Just a few days before Thanksgiving, representatives of the congregations met up in the parking lot of Saint David's Episcopal Church, where they consolidated the pennies into just a few tomato buckets (exceedingly heavy buckets, we might add!... see the photo below) to walk together to a neighboring Publix, the iconic Southgate store built in 1957.
Among the local, interdenominational delegation to deliver the pennies were a Disciples of Christ minister, a retired United Methodist pastor, a Unitarian Universalist congregational president, the president of the Lakeland Democratic Club, and a former associate of Publix's corporate offices.
If Publix didn't heard the Fair Food Nation clearly enough during creative Thanksgiving actions like these, they will have another chance this very morning! Farmworkers and their allies will be gathering at a Publix re-opening in Naples at noon, where they will greet CIW staff member Oscar Otzoy as he coasts into the parking lot after biking 42 miles from Immokalee.
We'll conclude this update with a powerful speech from the Rev. Russell L. Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches, who read the following statement to the assembled media in Lakeland on the occasion of the delivery of the buckets full of pennies (pictured at the top of this post):
"Publix Can Lead on Florida Fair Food
The generosity of Publix and the family foundations of its owners is well known in Lakeland. House of worship, food pantries, shelters, community projects have all received charity from Publix. Children and families have benefited from health clinics, parks, gardens and playgrounds sponsored by Publix. Publix is an education partner for both public and private schools.
Publix has an outstanding reputation as an employer, and its payroll drives a lot of other local businesses through the spending habits of its employees. There is good reason why other companies aspire to become a corporate citizen like Publix.
It is this very spirit of generosity which will also make Publix a leader in Florida’s Fair Food Program. Already 90% of Florida’s tomato growers and a dozen major food corporations have signed onto the campaign. They have committed to fair working conditions in Florida’s fields and to paying a penny per pound premium for tomatoes to correct the market stagnation in farmworker wages. When Publix joins the campaign, Florida consumers will proudly be able to participate in the Fair Food Program. Consumers will gladly buy Florida tomatoes that they know have been picked in fairness and not exploitation.
Publix and other retailers understand the idea of premium surcharges. Surcharges are paid now to cover market fluctuations in fuel and pesticide costs. Tomato picker wages remain at 1978 levels because farmworkers have not had a way to participate in market pricing. New structures are now in place to correct this injustice. Publix already sells fair food brands because they know consumers prefer them over food that comes from exploitation. Because of Publix’s reputation for doing good in the community, we are confident that it will respond to Florida consumers.
This Thanksgiving, Publix can make us all proud by joining the Florida Fair Food Program. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, people of faith in Lakeland and across of Florida have collected these pennies. Faith and goodwill are paying the premium forward. We call on Publix to join us for fairness on the grocery shelves and in Florida’s fields. Publix, be the leader that you are known to be!"