One of the most pressing problems of our communities is increasing hunger, especially with high unemployment and a continuing recession. The way churches respond to the needs of those who can least afford food needs rethinking to not only meet the needs of those who are hungry, but also do this in a way that is both nutritious and educational while maintaining dignity.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA) reports that 12.3 percent of Hoosier households are food insecure – meaning they lack consistent access to a nutritious, well-balanced diet. This number has been recently increasing each year by one percent.
Nutritious and plentiful food continues to be an increasing problem of many families. Unfortunately, many church-based pantries continue to be part of the nutrition problem instead of part of the solution. Filling a couple of grocery sacks with cereal, dry milk, rice, white bread, canned fruits and veggies, pasta, spaghetti sauce, canned tuna, peanut butter and instant macaroni-and-cheese may be filling, but does it meet the nutritional needs of a family with children? I encourage each congregation to take an inventory of what and how members provide for the nutritional needs of those served.
One way to improve the distribution of food is through a “choice food pantry” approach. Instead of handing a pre-sacked list of items for all, create a store-like atmosphere, helping guests choose preferred foods from shelves. Each guest can be allocated a total number of items to choose based on the family’s size. This method allows families to make choices about their own food without limiting their dignity. This method also allows pantries to operate economically with less waste.
Here are other ways congregations are providing for the hunger needs of their neighbors. The pastors and members of the new Pine Creek Cluster of Covington, Pine Village and Williamsport United Methodist Churches in the Northwest District told Together they were excited about the Foods Resource Bank project they started last year.
In addition to the $1,000 each they donated to the local food pantries in their respective communities, they also were able to send $8,500 to the national Foods Resource Bank center to target rural county projects in Liberia through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, addressing hunger both at home and in the world.
In the newly formed East Jay Cluster of Portland Asbury, Portland Trinity and Westchester UMCs in the East District, volunteer members have begun offering a weekly meal to anyone in their community (See page 10). They join dozens of United Methodist congregations statewide that either offer a meal, by themselves or with a group or cluster of congregations, to the community, including many homeless guests.
This year, the Pine Creek Cluster also has partnered with Christ United Methodist Church in Lafayette to help provide 30 acres of land dedicated to food gardening plots. By this means they will be able to not only make a greater donation to address world hunger this year over last year, but also assure local food pantries of continued support throughout the project.
Gardens are a real plus to supplement the nutritional value of foods distributed from church food pantries. This same idea is taking hold in large urban communities as well. The City of Indianapolis recently announced 35 new “urban farms” established on vacant property now owned by the city. Members of Broadway UMC in Indianapolis also reach out to their community through a community garden resource center ministry, which creates a hub for gardeners located in the neighborhood. Urban farming is relatively easy and inexpensive, thanks to the wealth of resources available online through programs such as the Purdue University Extension, a service of the university’s College of Agriculture (www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_calendars.html).
Another way of providing fresh food is through farmers markets. Our churches are hosting farmers markets during the summer months on their parking lots such as Solsberry UMC in Greene County; North, Irvington, Epworth and Lawrence UMCs in Indianapolis; Marquette Park UMC in Gary and Wall Street UMC in New Albany. Farmers markets also provide churches the opportunity to grow vital relationships with residents as an outreach to their communities.
Now it’s your turn to rethink church pantries and hunger in your community. If you have a pantry, does it provide both your guests dignity as well as nutritious food? Are you able to establish or expand your outreach through pantry ministries by forming cluster food pantries or working with food banks? And finally, is your congregation able to provide fresh fruits and vegetables through a farmers market or community garden? All of these approaches will make a difference in the lives of our neighbors and us.
– Daniel R. Gangler
Many United Methodist churches are becoming involved in providing garden plots to help feed the hungry in their communities.
The way churches respond to needs of those who can least afford food needs rethinking …