Reverend Russ Melby
Reverend Russ Melby, a long-time Iowa organizer of Church World Service CROP Hunger Walks, received the third annual Iowa SHARES Award in 2015.
From 1984 until his retirement in 2014, Rev. Melby involved almost 500,000 Iowans, who together raised over 12 million dollars to alleviate hunger. A quarter of all funds raised in Iowa are returned to local food pantries, and the remainder reduces global hunger by providing emergency aid during famines and supporting families around the world to transition from dependence to self-sufficiency. CROP Hunger Walks are community celebrations that bring people from many different perspectives and faith traditions together to fight hunger in over 80 communities across Iowa.
“Rev. Melby and CROP Hunger Walks are tremendous proof of the belief, shared by Dr. Borlaug and Governor Ray, that the struggle to end hunger should bring together people of all perspectives and walks of life,” said Amb. Kenneth M. Quinn, President of The World Food Prize. “By working together and building on our great humanitarian heritage, Iowa can eradicate hunger from our state and rise to the greatest challenge in human history – feeding the estimated 9.7 billion people who will share our planet by 2050,” the Ambassador added.
The Iowa SHARES Award has special meaning for Russ, who, in 1985, was invited by the Des Moines Register to represent the Protestant faith community at discussions of a possible fundraiser to alleviate famine in Ethiopia. “I was asked if Church World Service wanted to be involved,” Russ recalls, “and though I was a rookie at the time, I said ‘Yes, we’d love to be’. Then I called our headquarters – we had never done something like this before - and said ‘I hope this is okay!’” This initiative grew into the Iowa CARES program, which, inspired by the Iowa SHARES program, raised over $800,000 in under a year to feed starving refugees in Ethiopia.
An ordained Lutheran minister, Rev. Melby was introduced to the challenges of hunger in 1980 when his bishop encouraged him to attend a Bread for the World meeting of faith leaders in Lincoln, Nebraska. Learning about the realities of families struggling for survival was a “conversion experience”. Previously a concerned bystander, hunger ministry became his lifelong vocation. Russ was inspired to persevere by his “belief that food is the right of everyone, and not merely a privilege, by the personal example of Dr. Norman Borlaug and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the writings of St. Paul, Isaiah, Amos and Micah.” His advice to fellow hunger-fighters: “Learn the meaning of accompaniment, advocate for the rights of hungry people through cultivating relationships with members of Congress, and practice an urgent persistence.