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Congregation fights hunger in greater St. Louis


Faith Des Peres sets an example as a Presbyterian Hunger Program Action Congregation

February 26, 2020

The members of Faith Des Peres Presbyterian Church in St. Louis have a passion for doing outreach related to the causes of hunger and homeless. (Contributed photo)

As a Hunger Action Congregation, Faith Des Peres Presbyterian Church is taking aim at food insecurity in greater St. Louis by providing food for schoolchildren and other vulnerable populations.

Volunteers from the church come together to assemble sacks of food that are distributed to students in the School District of University City who might have trouble getting meals outside of school hours.

“We know a lot of kids get (free) meals at school during the week, but they may not have access to that kind of food on the weekends,” said Erica Abbett, moderator of the Mission and Ministry Center at Faith Des Peres. “Our Buddy Packs include things like applesauce and fruit and small cans of vegetables and tuna fish — things that they can actually get a somewhat healthy meal out of.”

The packing takes place in the church’s fellowship hall, with children from the church sometimes working alongside adult volunteers, filling grocery sacks for students in need.

“Each month, we pack somewhere between 240 and 300 packs in that one monthly Sunday, right after church,” Abbett said. “And then every two weeks we deliver half of that supply to the school district, and then they use it to distribute it among their four elementary schools.”

Gary Spiller, executive director of student services and innovation for the school district, praised the program as a “critical connector” and something that contributes positively to the learning environment.

“The district puts student well-being at a premium,” he said. “Students are not ready to learn if they are hungry and do not have regular, healthy meals.”

Assembling Buddy Packs is just one of the activities that helped Faith Des Peres become certified recently as a Hunger Action Congregation (HAC).

Churches in the Hunger Action program are active in one or more of the following areas: hunger alleviation, development assistance, hunger education, lifestyle integrity, corporate and public policy witness, and worship.

The church held a “Freeze Out” to raise awareness about homelessness. People slept on the front lawn on a frigid night and then shared their experiences with the congregation. (Photo by Erica Abbett)

The HAC program, which currently includes 164 churches in 69 presbyteries, “lets the national church celebrate alongside individual congregations who demonstrate a commitment to hunger ministry, and it helps encourage local churches by sharing their stories in order to inspire and connect them to other Presbyterian congregations acting on hunger,” the Rev. Rebecca Barnes, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, said in an email. “We hope that this program both enlivens local ministries and helps spread the idea that all congregations can do something to help end hunger — from feeding programs to advocating for just public policies.”

Faith Des Peres has a history of mission work that includes helping the hungry and raising awareness about the homeless. One such activity, the “Freeze Out,” involved participants sleeping in cardboard boxes on the church lawn and then sharing their experiences with the congregation. The church also created homeless kits containing razors, socks and snacks, among other items.

The church’s vision is “challenging the present to change the future to make Christ known,” Abbett said. Basically, “any mission and ministry program that we do is our enactment of making Christ known.”

In addition to helping schoolchildren, Faith Des Peres packs meals for homebound people who have serious conditions, such as HIV/AIDS and related illnesses.

The church also has a community garden that, among other things, provides fresh produce for a local pantry. The church also takes a food collection for the food pantry on the first Sunday of each month, or in conjunction with communion.

“What’s really kind of fun about this is that we involve the children in this ministry,” Abbett said.  “They pull red wagons down the church aisle and collect the food that way.”

Intergenerational work teaches valuable lessons, said the Rev. Marilyn S. Gamm, Faith Des Peres’ transitional pastor.

“Our children are learning, from a young age, not only that others are going hungry but that there is something that they can do to help feed people, being Jesus’ hands and feet here in our community,” she said via email.

Darla Carter, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Presbyterian Hunger Program Action Congregation

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Erica Thomasson, Presbyterian Foundation
Edward Thompson, Board of Pensions

Let us pray:

Triune God, help us, rejoicing in your providential love, to exercise the same generosity with others that you share with us. Empower us to let go of the few loaves and fishes that we possess so that other hungry people can be fed, too. Then open our eyes to the miracles that follow. In Christ. Amen.

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