By Andy Mannix
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By Olivia LaVecchia
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It's a frigid, Fargo-like morning in New Hope, Minn., and the Country Kitchen on 42nd Avenue is crammed with hungry folks who've just arrived from the Crystal Evangelical Free Church's worship service. Clean-shaven captains of industry wait in the lobby with their well-heeled wives, most of whom are wrapped in designer fur. The women hug and air-kiss. The men trade handshakes and G-rated Norwegian jokes. Toddlers fidget in their Sunday best, while teenagers clutch their leather-bound copies of the Holy Bible to their varsity letter jackets.
The hostess efficaciously manages the waiting list as waiters scurry past, brows laced in sweat and their serving trays steaming. The whole-grain waffles are especially popular today. Ladled with syrupy fruit, they're sweet as sin--no less appetizing than the restaurant's glistening omelettes or soggy hash browns, but easier on the waistline. They fill you up without slowing you down--just like the Word.
All around the standing crowd, tables buzz with caffeinated banter:
Think the Vikings will beat the Cardinals in the playoff this afternoon? Oh, sure. And that quarterback, that Randall Cunningham! Now he's a man of God, a role model's role model.
Did you see Diana Pierce's Christmas concert last month? It's so good to have her as a member. That station where she works, they always make sure to deliver a little good news with the rest.
Ever noticed how many folks from the inner city are moving into Crystal? With so many, you know, Hispanic families coming out this way, so many mothers on welfare, well, there is bound to be trouble.
At Richard Proudfit's table, though, there is precious little time for such suburban prattle. This 69-year-old, longtime member of Crystal Evangelical doesn't waste his days deciphering the sports page. On the rare occasions when he does channel-surf for news, the self-made multimillionaire is more apt to settle on Pat Robertson's 700 Club than the dispiriting feed from a local affiliate. And the new neighbors? Dick Proudfit doesn't give a tinker's damn if you're "black, brown, blue, or green." All he cares about is feeding the planet's famished children. It's his obsession.
"Just consider the Ukraine," he says as a preamble to grace. "It's the breadbasket of Europe, and the children are starving to death. Starving to death! Dumb, dumb, dumb."
Marcie Proudfit, Dick's wife of 42 years, the couple's 27-year-old daughter Katie,
and her fiancé Mike Rundell have heard this soliloquy before, hundreds of times on as many Sunday mornings. But they're rapt anyway, an Amen chorus.
"How can you not be proud of him?" Katie wonders.
"He never slows down. Never," Marcie adds, shaking her head in mock exasperation.
The future son-in-law speaks for the congregation: "It's amazing."
The "it" to which Rundell refers is Feed My Starving Children, a local charity with a 1998 budget of around $500,000 that quietly, almost anonymously ships food to developing and war-torn nations around the world, with Proudfit as its visionary head. Housed in a nondescript warehouse in New Hope, the nonprofit is Proudfit's attempt to honor the divine, built up in response to a direct order, he says, from the Lord.
In just over a decade, Proudfit has nearly single-handedly perfected, packaged, and distributed to humanitarian organizations in 28 nations his "fortified rice-soy casserole." As a result, hundreds of thousands of children around the globe have been fed FMSC meals. Last year alone, with contributions approaching $416,000, FMSC records show that nearly 10,000 volunteers were recruited from schools and churches across the nation to staff the New Hope facility for the express purpose of packaging food. As a result, 2.3 million individual meals were served in many of the world's neediest countries, including Haiti, Venezuela, and India.
Proudfit believes this record level of production at FMSC is just "a drop in the bucket--just a beginning." Forty thousand children, he says, starve to death daily. "That's 40,000 meals a day, every day. How do I do that? I keep asking the Lord, and he keeps trying to tell me."
Before digging into his breakfast, Proudfit abruptly changes the conversation's direction: The year 2000. As of today, the stroke of midnight is still more than 11 months away. That's 50 weeks and four days to go before the new millennium. And that means, if what's being predicted by some is true, computers on the blink, massive shutdown, global gridlock. The demise of the world as we know it. Y2K.
In a room full of Evangelicals, chatting up the prospect of a man-made millennial apocalypse seems no more remarkable than ordering bacon with your eggs. But for Proudfit, Y2K isn't a phenomenon to be dreaded. It's a sign from God.
Four months ago, on the advice of a friend, Proudfit traveled to a Y2K convention in Dallas, where people were congregating to plan for the worst--no electricity, no fresh water, no big brother to bail the little guy out. He figured a few attendees might be interested in buying FMSC's nonperishable package--the casserole in a bag--so he brought along 300 of them. He sold out in two hours. In particular, survivalists methodically stockpiling their basements with essentials were taken by the foodstuff's nutritional value, easy prep instructions, and long shelf-life. With the specter of America's supermarkets going berserk with the rest of the nation--and for God knows how long--Proudfit's just-add-water meals looked like a recipe for survival.