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Ministering to the hungry: Pleasantville Presbyterian Church practices outreach

Hunger Action Congregation looks for innovative ways to help people in need

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Church members unload food from the food bank at their church in the winter. (Photo courtesy Pleasantville Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — For members of Pleasantville Presbyterian Church in New York state, helping people in need is what they do. It has become a part of their DNA. Certified as a Hunger Action Congregation by the Presbyterian Hunger Program in 2017, the church has taken numerous steps over the years to reach out to a community that struggles to find enough food.

“We participated in a food program connected with a local high school. The principal told us that many young people were going to school hungry. We came up with breakfast program, so kids could grab a bag breakfast as they walk to school,” said Jane E. Wong, the church’s mission coordinator. “We tried different things to make this work. But after speaking to many people, it turned out it was too embarrassing for the kids to come. They would rather go hungry than show that they needed food.”

Wong says Pleasantville Presbyterian is always looking for new, innovative ways to help those who don’t get enough to eat.

“We have an active church. About 1,000 people come through the building every week (members and non-members) for nursery school, boy scouts, and some recovery groups. We offer lots of music and arts classes and teach English as a second language,” she said. “Because of the traffic in and out of the building, we started to put bowls of fruit around in the lobby and I always put a bowl out for the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.”

Because some people are embarrassed by their situation, Wong says the church tries to connect people with food pantries and kitchens anonymously.

“In Westchester County, there is a food bank funded by donations from corporations. Every other week, I order food from them and we distribute to sister congregations,” said Wong. “We try to get as much fresh frozen food as we can and we don’t collect a lot of packaged goods. We try to get things like fresh meats, fish, eggs and cheese.”

The church received a three-year legacy grant from Hudson River Presbytery which is used to purchase a lot of the food at the food bank.

Other activities include hosting a hunger banquet, a “Souper Bowl” collection on the day of the big game as well as an active social justice program for high school-aged children.

“While we have addressed other issues, the main focus has been centered around food insecurity,” said Wong. “We’ve taken field trips to the United Nations and have written letters on behalf of Bread for the World. The interns’ regular project is to help with our bi-monthly food distribution.”

“Food security is a critical focus in local communities and it is critical to do this ministry with sensitivity to the feelings and realities of people who are hungry, as Pleasantville has tried to do,” said Rebecca Barnes, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “While being recognized by PHP as a Hunger Action Congregation is in no way the beginning of a congregation’s long ministry of caring for the hunger, we appreciate HACs covenanting with us so that we can share their inspiring stories and models with others. Pleasantville is a great example of Presbyterians who are trying to listen to the needs in the community and be responsive and flexible with how to go about addressing those needs.”


PHP recognizes churches around the country that are committed to alleviating hunger and its causes.

Click here if you are interested in learning more about becoming a Hunger Action Congregation.

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