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Small churches give big

Small churches give big

As part of its recent Diocesan convention, the Diocese of West Virginia invited all the congregations of the diocese to bring canned food to distribute to food-banks in the vicinity of the convention site at Pipestem Resort State Park.  As an incentive, it was decided that a prize would be rewarded to the congregation that brought the most cans-per-member (based on average Sunday attendance).

3,676 cans of food from across the Diocese were collected, not including boxed meals, pasta, condiments, jams, jellies, and the like.  Food was distributed to church related pantries or food banks in Lewisburg, Oak Hill, and Bluefield.   The hope of the food drive was to increase awareness of food accessibility issues in the state, promote congregants participation in parish charity activities, and create an immediate impact on the area in which the Diocese was gathering.
The largest donation of a single congregation was 644 cans of food.  The winning congregation was St. Matthias Church, in Grafton, WV.  St. Matthias has an average Sunday attendance of 6 to 8 people and brought an average of 33 cans per person.
West Virginia is a state where food insecurity is especially high.  What other example of convention related ministry have you seen?  In what ways have you seen small churches “punching above their weight?”
image: some of the food being gathered outside the meeting hall – photo by Chad Slater

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Cynthia Katsarelis

Our parish donates money to the local food bank (that was housed in our parish a long time ago) and donates products on the 4th Sunday of the month. Once a year, we participate in a city wide “Loaves and Fishes” that yielded 1907 lbs the year I helped with the campaign – it was more than the Cathedral and we are medium sized. Some of our parishioners volunteer there. Metro Caring is a really fine organization that not only provides food, but also classes on shopping, cooking, and growing one’s own food.

What I love is that there is indeed the charitable component, but they also empower people to access and cook healthy food. I can’t recall the exact data, but essentially many of Denver’s poor are healthier than in other cities. Empowerment makes a big difference. Of course, advocating for livable wage might not hurt, either.

Philip B. Spivey

You make an excellent point, Cynthia: I like to “buy healthier” too, although at my parish we are limited to non-perishables. I remember years back when I worked at an agency that temporarily housed adolescents, who had been removed from their homes: These children were served lunches that consisted of mac and cheese at least twice a week, chicken pot pies, frankfurters and hamburgers and fries for the rest.

Often, poor folks receive poor nutrition either because the healthy choices are too expensive or because they are unavailable or, like the rest of us, they prefer meals that are quick,easy and taste good. Tragic to say that McDonald’s and other fast food franchises proliferate in poor communities. Tragic to say, also, that there is an epidemic of morbid obesity in these communities.

Jerald Liko

In reply to the suggestions that we just give cash, I had an odd moment at my congregation’s ministry fair a few months ago. I stopped by the booth of our local food pantry looking for information about how to volunteer, and I was told pretty directly that they didn’t want volunteers, just cash contributions.

Cash may be what they need the most, but I seem to be experiencing a lack of spare bills (I pledge at my church and also support some other diocesan initiatives). Which is why I wanted to offer the “time” component of the holy time, treasure, talent trinity.

It’s hard for me to be mad at someone for being honest about his organization’s needs, but I can’t help but feel that there’s something soul-enhancing – even sacramental – about doing the deed with my own hands, and moreover, about physical encounter those in need. This is why we spend thousands of dollars flying our youth to the wretched corners of the world in mission trips: Peter’s Pence feeds the coffers but doesn’t satisfy the soul.

In short, I was disappointed that the gift I had wasn’t wanted, and the gift that was wanted wasn’t available to me. Maybe next year, I suppose.

Philip B. Spivey

A personal reflection: I am innately more likely to part with items from grocery store shelves than dollar bills. I never know what’s a correct amount of cash to give, because I never feel it’s enough to match the magnitude of the need; it’s not that I’ve never given cash—I do it monthly at my parish and writing checks has become more frequent for me as my time and energies have diminished. But, I draw the line for the food pantry.

I gladly roam the supermarket isles once a month for the pantry at the same time I shop for my family. I shop late in the month because I’m told that pantries tend to run low then. I experience tremendous joy in the tactile act of hand-picking food items off the shelf that—eventually— someone visiting a food pantry, will delight in having. I call it hospitality shopping: Loving myself through the nurture of food and loving my neighbor through the same. Although we don’t sit at the same table, I do feel a great affinity to my unknown neighbors and when I peruse the store isles, I try to imagine what items will bring them comfort.

In New York City, many of our poor and hungry are people of color and so I try to imagine what they might be surprised to find at the food pantry: In addition to the generic staples (rice, dry milk, soup, etc.) I look for ethnic foods like canned collard greens, kale (now, so popular among the millennials), and black eyed peas; Goya products like yellow rice, black beans and olive oil. I try to shop beyond the generic.

The irony of course is that in when I contribute in this way, I never look at the dollar amount at the register– the hospitality items and family items are indistinguishable on the cash register receipt; they are one and I feel richer for it.

Cash? No way!

Jim Pratt

Our local community food bank relies heavily on donations of food (over $90,000 worth last year). While they use cash donations to provide fresh milk, eggs, vegetables, and some staples (rice, flour, sugar, etc) where they can get significant discounts for buying in bulk, the in-kind donations allow clients to “shop” and choose the items that they prefer, rather than having to accept a pre-packed basket with items they may not use. (especially because the food bank serves a very ethnically and culturally diverse population). The annual door-to-door food drive, which my parish is gearing up for, also serves as a way to educate the neighbourhood about hunger and food security issues. (That said, since we run the sorting center for the food drive, I know that about 5% of the food that comes in we have to discard, because it is outdated or damaged).

Having served in both rural and urban parishes, I find that rural parishes on whole can be more generous and more outward-focused. In part, however, that may because of the more central role that rural churches play. In urban churches, many people contribute through their workplace networks or elsewhere outside of the church.

John Chilton

In the rural area where I live (practically in West Virginia) food banks are filling a tremendous need. There is hunger out there. The backbone of the food banks are churches and service organization that support food banks with their time, money, and in kind contributions tailored to the needs of the food bank’s customers. Food banks listen to their customers and learn their needs. With food drives the issue isn’t only the discard rate, but that it is time consuming to sort what comes in and some items go into scarce stockpile space.

Philip Snyder

I know of two congregations in Dallas that punch significantly above their weight. The first is the Congregation I serve as Deacon, Trinity Episcopal Church, Dallas. We average about 35 ASA, but these 35 people combine to donate about $3,000.00 to the Kairos prison ministry each year AND they bake an average of 75 to 80 dozen cookies for each Kairos team I serve.

The second congregation is St. James, Kemp. They are also very active in Kairos (although for a different unit that the unit I go to). But their “punching above their weight” item is “One Man’s Treasure” – a program where people (normally men) donate gently used clothing to be given to prison inmates when they come to the Dallas, Fort Worth area. One of the most difficult things about being released is that you are required to have clothing (and nice looking clothing) to go to job interviews, but most men who get out of prison don’t have buckets of money with which to purchase clothes, so One Man’s Treasure provides them with suits, dress shirts, ties, shoes, and everyday clothing too.

John Chilton

I trust a list of preferred items that the food banks were in short supply of was shared in advance and respected by donors. But the most thoughtful thing you can do for the food banks, and for the person who carries you luggage into the convention hotel, and schlep your cans, is to give cash.

Jay Croft

Cash, absolutely. The food banks can buy much more, wholesale, that way.

Plus if you itemize deductions on your taxes, your cash or check donation may be tax-deductible.

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