When he introduced her as the guest of honor at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning, Central Christian Church pastor Bill Nigus jokingly called Peggy Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, "Xena the Warrior Princess."
But Nigus, who coordinates Callaway County's involvement in the food bank's Buddy Pack program that sends food home with hungry school children on the weekends, said his joke was partially true on reflection: Kirkpatrick was a "prayer princess."
"We have this idea that we have to drive through life and fix the world's problems on our own," Nigus said. "Peggy is a living example that if there's a project she's facing or an issue she needs to overcome, prayer is the first place to turn."
Kirkpatrick addressed a packed Callaway County Senior Center after Mayor LeRoy Benton invited her to give a speech at his annual prayer breakfast, where she said prayer - and action - were the keys to change.
"I spent 7.5 years seeing people eating out of dumpsters or sleeping in them in the winter. I spent 7.5 years of looking at that, and I'd keep walking. One day something broke and I said the sorriest prayer God probably ever heard except for students during finals week - "Lord, this is so wrong, you need to do something, you need to send someone.' I'll warn you now, don't say that prayer, the answer was, "What about you, Peggy? Why don't you do something?'
"I didn't want to be bothered with it at the time but just to make a point, I was a Sunday school teacher at the time and our next lesson was on James 2, "faith without works is dead.'"
Since then, Kirkpatrick has spent 22 years working with the food bank, which services 32 counties in Missouri including Callaway. Last year, Callaway County received more than 809,000 pounds of food from the Food Bank and nearly half of the county's school children were in the free and reduced school meal program, the food bank's website states.
"As adults, sometimes we have hard hearts and say "you adults built this problem, now live with it. But we never think about the kids in that situation. Bill drives a bus, and one day this girl boarded his bus and said, "Look what I got today' and holds up a Buddy Pack," Kirkpatrick said. "Then she said, "I get to eat this weekend' and sat down. Bill had to wait a few minutes before driving off because he had tears in his eyes. That's what we're facing today."
Kirkpatrick said Missouri is ranked second in the nation for food insecurity, characterized by families skipping meals and cutting portions because food is scarce or unaffordable - it falls only behind Mississippi. Missouri is also the fastest-falling state to get to that point in the last 10 years.
But she also talked about the power of prayer, reading from Acts 12:12, a passage in which people praying for the apostle Peter were surprised when an angel freed him from prison. Kirkpatrick said prayer should be a first resort rather than a last one, and that people who pray together should not be surprised by results.
"What are we doing wrong? I don't think we're praying, and I don't think we're asking, "What can I do?' but saying "What is government going to do,'" Kirkpatrick said.