Material History of American Religion Project

Marching bands and corn syrup

Marching band at CROP corn syrup event (36658 bytes)This month’s object suggests the importance of effective public relations in church work—especially charitable work. Every cause can benefit from a little spectacle, and an accompanying press release.

We write elsewhere about the work of Church World Service, the world charity and disaster relief arm of the National Council of Churches. Since the late 1940s one of its most important programs has been CROP, now a hunger relief fund-raising program, but founded to receive donations of agricultural produce from American farmers for the world’s hungry. State CROP committees solicited wheat, corn, livestock and many other items from farmers across the country—both in and out of the churches.

In the fall of 1962—well, we’ll let CROP’s own press release tell the story: "120,000 pounds of corn syrup, made possible by donations of corn and other contributions to Indiana CROP during in appeal last fall, will be distributed on the basis of need to people in Greece, Grenada, Haiti, Indonesia, Italy, Jordan, Austria, and Chile. A dedication service for this shipment was held September 14 at Edinburg, Indiana at the Union Starch and Refining Company where the syrup is packaged. Officials from the company; ministers from the local Christian, Methodist and Presbyterian churches; and the 40-piece Edinburg High School band participated in the event. Fall canvasses for CROP are in progress in Indiana and other states in the corn belt; appeals are also being conducted in the rice and wheat areas. Commodities collected during harvests and other contributions will provide shipments of food and self-help materials later this year or in 1963 for refugees, people in indigent areas, disaster victims and for those suffering from malnutrition."

The photo accompanying the press releases shows the marching band in front of the box cars full of syrup. Why a marching band? Why not? Such a local spectacle attracts the attention of potential donors, makes farmers feel better about their gifts, and lends an air of festivity and middle American wholesomeness to the enterprise. CROP learned to send off its shipments with similar festivities (in our hip age, we’d call them media events) across the country.

"Corn Syrup Enroute to Eight Countries," CROP Information Service, November 1962. From the files of Church World Service, Elkhart, Indiana.

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