Presbyterian Hunger Program awards almost 50 COVID-19 grants


Funding will help churches and community groups serve vulnerable populations

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Volunteers wear masks and gloves to load food into cars during food distribution at Faith Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Recognizing a rapid increase in demand for food assistance, the Presbyterian Hunger Program has announced $113,000 in grants to help churches and community groups weather the coronavirus storm and build capacity to address hunger.

“Typically, our grants are a little bit more toward the root causes of hunger,” said the Rev. Rebecca Barnes, PHP’s coordinator. However, “we felt like in this time it was very clear that we needed to do some stopgap measures of feeding people right now” who are “increasingly hungry because of unemployment and lack of school meals and (to help) people who couldn’t get the CARES relief (stimulus checks) because of their immigration status.”

The grants, which are being distributed in states throughout the United States and in Puerto Rico, will be used for “exciting and amazing” work by PHP partners and churches, said Andrew Kang Bartlett, PHP’s Associate for Hunger Concerns.

The gifts include 29 Congregational Food Emergency Grants, totaling $28,000, in 15 synods of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); $10,000 in Congregational Crisis Resiliency Grants awarded to two recipients; and $75,000 in Partner Emergency Needs Grants to 15 PHP partners addressing a spike in demand for their services due to the coronavirus crisis.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, so many families are food vulnerable at this stage,” said Bruce Kelsh, who chairs the Earth and Social Justice Committee at First Presbyterian Church of Cottage Grove near Eugene, Oregon. “There’s a very high need.”

The church, which is in the Presbytery of the Cascades, will receive a Crisis Resiliency Grant to help re-establish a community garden behind a local food bank. The project will provide fresh produce for low-income families and encourage people to consume healthy diets.

The grant is “coming at exactly the right time for planting,” Kelsh said. “The weather has been 10 degrees higher than our normal temperatures, so things will be really taking off this year and we can start growing as soon as we can.”

Also, “we’ve got people that are master canners,” he said. “They’ll teach people how to preserve their foods so it can last throughout the year. We can offer some classes as well.”

On the other side of the country, United Workers Association in Baltimore is providing some direct food assistance during the pandemic and is also working on other issues to help groups that are vulnerable during the coronavirus crisis. The recipient of an Emergency Needs Grant has been advocating for safe housing for the homeless and distributing face masks.

“It’s still really surprising how little protections people are afforded that are without economic need,” said Todd Cherkis, a leadership organizer for the association, which is located in the Presbytery of Baltimore.

The association’s areas of expertise include tenant and essential worker advocacy. The group has been brainstorming recently on how to prevent people from being evicted once a moratorium that was prompted by the pandemic has been lifted.

On the food front, it’s helping to provide groceries and other items, such as cleaning products, for seniors and various other people, such as families of workers in low-wage service jobs.

“We’ve bought groceries and stuff since the beginning, but we started to really buy it in mass last week” in response to an uptick in demand, he said.

Faith Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama, keeps its pantry well stocked. (Contributed photo)

Farther south in Huntsville, Alabama, Faith Presbyterian Church is grateful to be receiving an emergency grant to help fulfill its longstanding mission to address food insecurity in that area, where many service workers have lost jobs or had their work hours reduced.

“We are heavily involved in our community, in our region and in the world,” Mission Coordinator Krista Lovell said. “Our motto is ‘Worship Centered and Mission Focused,’ and it is a part of our DNA and who we are as disciples of Christ to care for those around us.”

Along with delivering food boxes to seniors as it does on a regular basis, Faith Presbyterian Church, part of North Alabama Presbytery,  has been distributing emergency food bags to help the families of children who are out of school due to the pandemic. Recently, the church served 36 families, representing 144 people, during a drive-through food pickup.

Faith Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama, creates snack kits for people experiencing homelessness. (Contributed photo)

“I had volunteers pack the bags in family groupings, so that no two families were in the building at the same time, and they had to wear masks, they had to wear gloves,” Lovell said. “Then on Saturday, we all came together and staged ourselves in our church parking lots so that only family groups were standing together and everybody else was spread apart.”

Church volunteers also have been providing snack packs to First Stop, an organization that works to get people experiencing homelessness off the street. Such mission work is what discipleship is all about, Lovell said.

“It’s not just about knowing what the Bible story is,” she said. “It’s doing something with it.”

The work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program is supported by One Great Hour of Sharing. PHP is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.


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