Black Mountain Presbyterian Church tackles food insecurity

Hunger Action Congregation says ‘service is our mission’

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in North Carolina is involved with multiple projects in the community to help feed the hungry. Those projects include this ecumenical garden across the street at a Baptist church. (Photo courtesy of Black Mountain Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — When Margo Smith thinks about Black Mountain Presbyterian Church’s commitment to addressing food insecurity and other community needs in western North Carolina, she is reminded of an engraving inside the church’s sanctuary.

“The words engraved on our Communion Table at the front of the sanctuary are ‘Has Everyone Been Fed?’ This message is the reason why I joined BMPC,” Smith said. “It is hard to feel self-satisfied when we are continually reminded that service is our mission.”

BMPC, which is located in the town of Black Mountain, about 15 miles from Asheville, North Carolina, is among more than 100 churches that have earned the distinction of being called Hunger Action Congregations of the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP).

Churches like Black Mountain that are active in six areas can become certified HACs (Go here for more information. The deadline is in September.) Those areas are hunger alleviation, development assistance, hunger education, lifestyle integrity, corporate and public policy witness, and worship.

“The Hunger Action Congregation process celebrates the faithful work of Presbyterians around the country who are responding to the biblical call to help alleviate hunger and end its causes,” PHP notes on the HAC web page. “Through stories and encouragement, we wish to be mutually inspired to pursue broader and more justice-oriented ministries.”

Addressing hunger has been a big focus of Black Mountain Presbyterian Church for many years. The church, which is also an Earth Care Congregation, is located in an area where the price of housing can be a hardship for those who have few dollars left after paying for a place to live.

“Even if you live in Montreat or parts of Black Mountain that are very nice areas, you can’t drive into town without realizing there’s need everywhere,” said Smith, a longtime member of the Mission Committee who chairs the Strategic Planning Committee and is also on the session. “You are not isolated from need in the community.”

Much of the work that BMPC does is through collaborations with various groups and religious organizations in the area, which has multiple active denominations.

“It’s hard to find somebody who isn’t involved in social action,” Smith said. “We have a concentration of good, old Calvinist Presbyterian folk, and you know, service to mankind is service to God.”

Teens take part in a program to help feed families for Thanksgiving. (Photo courtesy of Black Mountain Presbyterian Church)

One of the ways that BMPC gets involved is by helping to support Bounty and Soul, a local organization committed to providing nutritious food and wellness education, and the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, which offers crisis services, ranging from a food pantry to utility assistance.

“We’ve had a close connection with both of those organizations from the beginning of the organization and throughout all of the things that have gone (on) since, including Covid,” Smith said.

Bounty and Soul, a nonprofit partner of BMPC founded by Ali Casparian, shares hundreds of boxes of local food with the community each week at their free Fresh Food Markets.

“We believe that our community is at the center of all of our work and so to be in this movement together helps us to better reach a broader span of our neighbors,” said Karla Gardner, director of community engagement for Bounty and Soul. “As a whole, our community can thrive and be healthy (and) be connected if we’re all partnering together.”

One way that happens is through volunteers from BMPC, Gardner said. “Volunteers are a critical part of our work in continuing to share food with our community. Just in the last two years our community has doubled during Covid. Not only are we sourcing record amounts of food, but we also need the volunteer support to keep things moving forward.”

BMPC also helps to support Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, whether it’s through members volunteering, collecting canned goods, taking part in fundraisers, adopting families for the holidays or supplying furniture for transitional apartments, said Executive Director Cheryl Wilson, who also happens to be a BMPC member and ruling elder.

Black Mountain is “a very, very involved congregation with the ministry, which we are so thankful for,” Wilson said. The church is three to four blocks away, “so it’s a very close proximity and there’s a lot of retired Presbyterian pastors — my dad’s one — and missionaries, and so the hands and feet and the heart for others is just, I think, engrained in so many that are part of our congregation, and that just helps us to instill that in our young ones.”

Another way that BMPC is active in the community and tackling hunger is through gardening projects.

“We have a community garden where people get plots and do their own plot” and a portion of the produce goes to Bounty and Soul, Smith said. Also, “we have an ecumenical garden with the Baptist church, which is across the street from us” that also helps to provide produce for the community.

Other projects that BMPC is involved in include youths doing Thanksgiving baskets, and there’s a preschool program that includes a garden and composting as well as farm-to-table snacks.

The church also is involved in advocacy endeavors, such as Bread for the World letter-writing campaigns and assists the Presbytery of Western North Carolina with efforts such as paying off medical debt.

“Black Mountain Presbyterian is doing so many great things to address hunger and poverty in all six areas as a certified Hunger Action Congregation,” said Andrew Kang Bartlett, PHP’s national associate. “But remember, no matter what size your congregation is, every act and every ministry you do to end suffering and injustices reflect Christian compassion and the healing power of God running through us.”

The Presbyterian Hunger Program is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. PHP’s work is supported by your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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