Southeastern Minnesota is a special place to live, and I grow increasingly enamored with it all the time. As residents of Rochester and its surrounding towns, we each contribute to building a thriving community.

Everyone has different interests. Some are focused on education, art, or government. Others are geared into small business development, family life, or social service volunteerism. We each add our own passions and skills to the mix.

I recently enjoyed participating in two endeavors which highlighted our unique community and its people. First, it was the SNAP Challenge encouraged by Channel One Regional Food Bank. Second, it was the Style on the Plaza Fashion Show downtown.

The SNAP Challenge invites participants to spend less than $3.86 per day on food for a week. This is the average amount of daily food assistance received by individuals in Minnesota participating in SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program). The challenge is meant to increase awareness about hunger-related issues.

Several Post-Bulletin columnists participated and mentioned it in their writings last week. I started the project unsure of just how difficult $3.86 a day would be. The experience was a wake-up call. Yet I remain fully aware that my one-week experiment was a mere glimpse into a reality I cannot begin to understand.

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The endeavor left me with feelings of both gratitude and naivete. I felt extremely thankful for all the staff and volunteers associated with Channel One and other national and international food banks.

But mostly, seven days on $3.86 a day left my spirit gnawing in a way that stretched beyond the growling in my belly. The experience confronted me with important realities. I am naive, and I still have much to learn when it comes to food insecurity, class, race and poverty.

We live in an amazing community and wonderful country. Yet real disparities exist. We are all part of the system and the solution. Thanks be to God for people in every town who use their time, talents, and resources to provide food and other necessities to people who need them.

Midway through the SNAP experience, I hit the runway during a one-night stint as a fashion model.

Style on the Plaza was a wonderfully coordinated endeavor which highlighted many downtown businesses through an evening fashion show. Countless people worked tirelessly beyond the scenes to ensure its success. Stage builders, store owners, musicians, coordinators, stylists, hair and make-up professionals, attendees, photographers, and a terrific crew of models of all ages.

The event combined an enjoyable fellowship opportunity with meaningful economic development and great fashion. There are many folks in this area committed to supporting local businesses. This is an important component of a vibrant community. It was encouraging to see the way people with a shared vision worked together using their individual interests and abilities.

Our community is strong. It grows in strength as we each step forward bravely and participate. We all contribute to the vitality of this region.

I encourage you to pause and consider your many passions and interests. Where is your point of community impact? Every drop in the bucket is important.

As we waited backstage to hit the runway, one new friend mentioned, "My husband and I planned to live here for three years. It has now been 27 years."

I understand why. We have many reasons to give thanks as we continue striving to build a strong community for everyone. Find your passion. Share your gifts. Serve others. And celebrate the blessings of life in our neck of the woods.

The Lady Pastor is a weekly column by Emily Carson, a Lutheran pastor in Stewartville. Visit her blog at: theladypastor.com.