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Michelle Tessier, Deseret News
Jackie Sanchez, left, and Carolyn Hoffman, right, help Larry "the Food Man" Gydesen, a retired man who collects food for local pantries, unload his truck as he drops off a load of food at Crossroads Urban Center's emergency food pantry in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 15, 2014.
We're very competitive about this. (We) can't let the Lutherans beat us after all — or the Presbyterians or the Methodists for that matter. —Murray Baptist Church Pastor Ray Kerley

SALT LAKE CITY — The Patton family donned their soccer jerseys and led members of their congregation in a cheer on a Sunday in early July.

"We. We believe. We believe that we. We believe that we will. We believe that we will win," the First United Methodist congregation said in unison, similar to a cheer heard in ESPN's commercial for the U.S. Men's National Team for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

They are among the handful of congregations along the Wasatch Front competing for the coveted trophy in the 2014 Golden Celery competition, sponsored by the Crossroads Urban Center. This year, the congregation's theme is along the lines of "One church, one goooooal!"

"It kind of motivates us and helps to organize something that is very easy to let slide, and there's certainly enough hunger out there that needs to be dealt with, and this is one way to help a little bit," said Murray Baptist Church Pastor Ray Kerley.

Crossroads Urban Center is a full-time emergency food pantry. Qualifying families can receive assistance up to six times a year. The center often sees a lull in July donations, according to Linda Hilton, the center's director of community outreach. It's also a time when many children are out of school and do not receive free meals.

The center created a competition between congregations and in 2008 glued two large cans of dried celery together to serve as a trophy.

The Golden Celery competition has helped July donations to the center increase from 100-200 pounds to about 30,000 pounds.

"This has made all the difference in the world," Hilton said.

Each congregation's donation is measured on a per capita basis, which means smaller congregations like the Murray Baptist Church — the reigning champions — can compete with those who have higher attendance.

On the last day of delivery, trucks from various congregations line up to make their final donations, Hilton said. In addition to winning this year's prize, congregations have seen other benefits from their participation.

"Of course there's the blessings of following the Lord in helping those who are needy, and it's a point of inspiration to say, 'Hey, a little church like ours is able to make a difference in the world,'" Pastor Kerley said.

After the contributions are tallied and churches have given Hilton their attendance for July, she will make the calculations and determine the winner.

An early Sunday in August will find her presenting a trophy to this year's Golden Celery champion.

Although there seem to be fewer donations from his congregation this year, Pastor Kerley said he hopes his church surges ahead for the win.

"We're very competitive about this," he said, laughing. "(We) can't let the Lutherans beat us after all — or the Presbyterians or the Methodists for that matter."

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