“Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce” (Proverbs 3:9). For most ELCA members, this verse describes giving in a symbolic way. For Milt Stoppkotte, it has a literal meaning: he regularly donates crops from his farm in Chapman, Neb., to the church.
At the start of his career, Stoppkotte decided that he would give away all the crops and income his family didn’t need. At first, it wasn’t much. When he and his wife were married more than 50 years ago, they lived off her teacher’s salary of $200 a month. But over time, the farm became more profitable. “We have been financially blessed,” he said.
“Giving them food is great to help them out right now, but it isn’t going to help them out in the long term.”
And, with their children grown, Stoppkotte can donate more now. He supports several charities, but World Hunger receives his largest contributions.
Stoppkotte has been a Lutheran almost as long as he’s been a farmer. In his 20s, following four years of military service, he returned home and began worshiping at Messiah Lutheran Church in Grand Island, Neb., down the road from his father’s farm. But faith isn’t the only reason he gives to World Hunger. He likes that it doesn’t just give food away—it equips people to establish secure livelihoods. “I know that a lot of people in this world are starving,” he said. “Giving them food is great to help them out right now, but it isn’t going to help them out in the long term.”
How it works
When farmers decide to donate their harvested or stored crops to the ELCA, they contact the Foundation. A staff member sets up an account with the grain elevator or vendor where a farmer usually sells crops. Next the farmer delivers the crops to the vendor in the name of the Foundation. The crops are then sold, with the proceeds going toward a ministry of the farmer’s choice, said John Eggen, the Foundation’s director for gift planning.
There is a practical benefit for the farmer and the ELCA, he added. Since the farmer donates the grain before it is sold, it doesn’t count as income and isn’t taxed. That can help the farmer financially and also increases the value of the gift for the ELCA.
“We started as an agricultural church, and a lot of our hunger work started out as farmers caring about feeding other people in the world.”
These gifts are part of a long history of Lutheran farmers feeding God’s people, said Daniel Rift, director of ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Response funding. “We started as an agricultural church, and a lot of our hunger work started out as farmers caring about feeding other people in the world,” he said.
In the past, Lutheran farmers sent food directly to people experiencing hunger, which isn’t practical anymore. Rift said modern gifts of grain “can tie food production and food insecurity together in a tangible way.”
Stoppkotte sees his gifts as practical—insofar as they address the causes of hunger and poverty, and help his business. He hopes to share that message with other farmers, encouraging them to donate crops as well. But, as someone whose faith influences his generosity, Stoppkotte believes he can only do so much persuading on his own. As he puts it: “The feeling of giving has to come from the Holy Spirit.”
Gifts of grain can benefit any ELCA ministry, but most donors designate them toward ELCA World Hunger. Learn more at elca.org/foundation.