With all the tragic news that has filled our lives lately, I am sorely tempted to post photos of cute kittens and puppies this week. I think we all need a break. However, while we might rest and hide for a while, life continues to go on and our neighbors still have needs to which we must respond.
Food security is an issue that needs to be addressed in every community. As I begin writing on this topic, the words from James 2:15 & 16 ring through my head: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” We are called to bring hope and reconciliation to those around us but if we are not providing for their physical needs, our words fall on deaf ears. Many of our congregations are already responding to the call to provide healthy food to our communities through food pantries, church gardens and community suppers. And, not surprisingly, we have a resolution that speaks to this need:
A091: Affirm Work for Food Ministries and Food Security
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention affirm the work and projects being carried out across the Church in food ministry, including food pantries, feeding programs, community gardens, educational programs, and advocacy for programs that provide healthy, culturally appropriate food; and be it further
Resolved, that the 78th General Convention encourages the further development of Native and Indigenous community food programs, such as the program in Navajoland Area Mission that maintains and teaches traditional growing methods and food preparation techniques; and be it further
Resolved, that the 78th General Convention call on dioceses, congregations, and all the baptized to deepen our understanding of the moral, cultural, and environmental relationships associated with food systems, through educational programs focused on: sustainability, equity, cultural diversity, and accessibility of all people to healthy food; and be it further
Resolved, that this Convention call on dioceses, congregations, and all the baptized to deepen our commitments as Christian communities to address food insecurity, food-related health issues, and food-related environmental effects in our communities and nations, through new and creative community, regional, and ecumenical projects, such as school and community gardens, church garden tithing to food banks, involvement with migrant worker and farm worker ministries, and food-worker organizing; and be it further
Resolved, that this Convention call on dioceses, congregations, and all the baptized to increase our involvement in advocacy for the development and maintenance of sustainable; equitable; culturally appropriate; and accessible food systems.
Since this is such a foundational concern, I thought I might highlight just a few of the ministries around our diocese that are responding to food security.
St John’s in Royal Oak has recently put in a garden which supplies mostly greens, herbs and tomatoes to their local food pantry, Open Hands Food Pantry. The Rev. Beth Taylor shared that their garden is managed by a committee of six members who divide up the task: “They then supervise ‘drop in volunteers’ from the church and community who sign up for one or more Tuesday evening, Thursday evening or Saturday morning shifts – May thru September. You can’t believe how much we grow in 8 beds!”
I didn’t know about this food pantry so I went to the St John’s website and learned about this outreach to the community: “Open Hands Food Pantry was founded in 1982 and has been housed in the lower level of the St. John’s Episcopal Church since that time, providing emergency food, toiletries and other items to residents of Oakland County. The food pantry is staffed entirely by volunteers and is supported by donations and grants from outside agencies, as well as in kind donations from various local businesses and individuals.” You can get more information about this great community resource at their website – http://www.openhandspantry.org/
Ten years ago, the small congregation of St Peter’s in Hillsdale started hosting a free community supper on the third Friday of every month. The first year, they fed approximately 35 guests a month. The next year, three other ministries in Hillsdale came on board to provide a free meal every Friday from September through May. Attendance went up to an average of 70 guests each week. The churches that are currently joining in this work are First Presbyterian Church of Hillsdale, One Step Ministries, and St Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church. At St Peter’s, the guests are treated to a variety of homemade soups, bread, desserts, fruit and plenty of good, hot coffee. Volunteers come from each congregation as well as from Hillsdale College and members of the community. It has been a great time of good food and fellowship for all that serve and attend.
The community dinners are a response to the many we saw as underemployed, unemployed and the homeless in the Brooklyn area. We felt that a home cooked dinner would be a welcome event, even though we might only offer it monthly. We began advertising a free meal but got a very limited response. Thinking that people might want to pay something, we settled on a $2 donation….At first we had too much of a response: 180-200 people and we collected $800-$900 at the first few dinners. Since we can only seat about 90, we needed to “turn the tables” as they say at Outback. We found that people wanted to remain to talk and fellowship. In the last two years, we are reaching our “target” people, those with families, grandchildren and retired couples on limited income.
John told me that the money they have collected has helped pay for some much needed repairs to their building and has also gone to support the Brooklyn Food Pantry.
Today, I had lunch with my friend, the Rev. Andrea Morrow from St Stephen’s in Wyandotte. I learned that her congregation is involved in five different food ministries in the community: a food pantry, a summer food program for children, Blessings in a Backpack collections, Christmas baskets and a St Stephen’s Day meal. Andrea told me that their goal is to provide one bag of groceries (more for families with kids) including bathroom tissue and personal care items to help tide people over till they can get to a larger, better stocked agency. She reported:
Since March, the member churches of the Wyandotte Ministerial Association has been referring people to us on days when the Downriver Food Pantry is not open, which has increased our visibility. Just since the beginning of July, we’ve given 240 pounds of food to 13 families. Members of the congregation are asked to bring specific items in particular each week, though extra items are always welcome. We are working on partnering with other local organizations to increase our level of donations to meet the need. The pantry is open Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 9 am – 2 pm and by appointment.
For more information, people can call 734-284-8777.
St Stephen’s summer food program for children runs in conjunction with the Wyandotte Ministerial Association. They have worked with two federally-funded food programs. From mid-June through late, volunteers pack and distribute sack lunches on Wednesdays to children participating in the city recreational programs in the parks. Members of the congregation also serve at the Presbyterian Church to serve a hot lunch from mid-June through mid-August.
The Blessings in a Backpack program (http://www.blessingsinabackpackmi.org/) provides a backpack full of food to elementary and some junior high kids so that they have nutritious food on the weekend. Over 900 kids get food from this program. Families receiving this assistance must qualify for free or reduced price lunch to be eligible.
In 2007, St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Chelsea dug up their front lawn to plant a garden that might raise awareness to the food needs of the wider community participating in the “Plant a Row for the Hungry Program.” Their hope was that as they “planted their garden, they would also plant an idea” for others to emulate in their own yards or those of their churches. According to their website, they donated over 1200 pounds of produce to Food Gatherers (foodgatherers.org) during their first season!! Since then, they’ve “grown vegetables, collected produce from local gardeners, gathered canned and dry goods and staples, and donated over three tons of food to Food Gatherers, Hearts Community Service and Faith In Action.” One of their priests, the Rev. David Glaser, shared with me that they have also planted a Peace Garden with native plantings to help the pollinators and they have installed a rain collection system as a model of good stewardship of all creation.
I know that there are other congregations in our Household that are actively involved in providing food security to our neighbors and friends. I will be pleased to tell your stories in future blogs if you share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell me what your church family is doing and send photos, too!
Writing the blog this week has been a delight because I’ve had the opportunity to hear the excitement in each voice as my friends have told their stories. Expressing love to those around us by sharing our abundance is life-giving for both the recipient and the giver! This is one more perfect example of how we can demonstrate love for our neighbors and in so doing express our love for God.
Let us pray –
Sharing the loaves and fishes,
you gave us an image of solidarity with the hungry, O Lord.
Sharing yourself in the Bread and Wine,
you called all to the table, O Lord.
Give me the hunger to be a part of the feeding
and the healing of this world.
Nourish me with your grace,
so I may work with joy to serve your children.
Open my eyes and my heart
to recognize those in poverty.
Help me to help those who are struggling
to feed your children in need.
Increase my awareness
of the structures and systems
that need to be changed
and give me a voice to speak for the silent
so that hunger everywhere can end and
we may all break bread together.
We ask these things in your Holy Name because we know you love it when we pray. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee