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Presbyterian Hunger Program grant process reflects transparency — and tugs at the heart

Nearly $1 million in funding will benefit 80 groups

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Sang Huynh via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — The Advisory Committee of the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) met last week to pore over grant requests from organizations around the globe that are addressing systemic poverty, climate justice, racism and other pressing issues in their communities.

During a three-day virtual meeting, the committee awarded 80 grants, totaling nearly $1 million, that mostly will go toward more and better food and solidarity with people.

“While (PHP) staff read and make recommendations on grant proposals, the decision is that of the Advisory Committee, and I think there is great value in having Presbyterian-elected representatives direct and decide on these grant partner relationships,” said PHP Coordinator the Rev. Rebecca Barnes. “It helps create wider knowledge of the grant partners, it helps staff to understand if there are questions or concerns Presbyterians might have with any of the partners, and it also helps to know which partners and projects are most exciting to share as broader stories and resources.”

The recently approved grants will benefit a variety of partners and projects, from the Ekvn-Yefolecv Indigenous Maskoke Ecovillage in Alabama and the Owe Aku International Justice Project in South Dakota, to international partners, such as FONDAMA in Haiti, where an earthquake and political upheaval have compounded daily struggles, such as hunger and safety, in recent months.

The Advisory Committee of the Presbyterian Hunger Program approved nearly $1 million in grants last week that will mostly go toward more and better food and solidarity with people. (Source: PHP)

“This work tugs on my heart most times,” Advisory Committee member the Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo said. “Every time, I feel grantees are doing the work of the Church. … It is very moving to see all that great work being done in the world — and a blessing to be part of it — by supporting it.”

The Advisory Committee reviewed grants in four categories: National, International, Congregation Based Community Organizing (CBCO) and Hunger Action Advocate (HAA).

Prior to the meeting, the grants were divvied up among various Advisory Committee members to read. Then the committee came together with PHP staff for a full meeting in which they discussed the applications and settled on an amount for each grant, considering recommendations by staff members along the way.

“Most grant applications are read by three staff members and two Advisory Committee readers,” Barnes said. Then in the full committee meeting, “people are invited to ask for more background, to ask questions, to share memories of having met or read about this partner before, and then a group decision is made.”

The process requires much time and attention.

The Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo

“Depending on the grant, how it is written and how many grants we have to read, I may spend between 45-60 minutes on each grant” before the full meeting, said Astudillo, an eco-theologian, Presbyterian pastor and GreenFaith organizer in Florida. “Within the years, I’ve learned to read grants better — what to look for when I read them — and get a better sense of the story being told in the grant itself.”

Advisory Committee member Alex Peterson, who has a background in grant writing, said the opportunity to “support a dedicated team of PHP teammates by reviewing, selecting and entering into partnership with national and international groups by funding their work is a true joy as I know how hard grant writing can be — and just how vital and hard truly transformative work can be.”

Peterson is nearing the end of his third term on the committee and has been supporting the staff and mission of PHP for about nine years, he said.

“I have sought to use my talents and positions of power to be an ally and advocate for others,” he said. “I work in international development, so I have a natural affinity for our international efforts. I also grew up in rural Nebraska and have experienced some of the issues that our domestic partners encounter and seek to change.”

Committee members’ passion could be heard from time to time during last week’s grant review. While discussing national grants, Eileen Best spoke highly about applicants, such as the United Workers Association based in Baltimore. It’s a great group that works with other organizations, such as the Poor People’s Campaign, and does a variety of work, she said. For example, “they work on affordable housing — helping people when they’re evicted — food deliveries, helping tenants to buy their buildings jointly, which I thought was a great idea, and also putting pressure on landlords to do upkeep and take care of the properties better, giving the people a voice,” she said. “And on top of all that, they have a zero waste campaign and a garden.”

The Rev. Rebecca Barnes

Many of the grant partners have received funding in previous years and have long-term relationships with PHP, Barnes said.

“We often know more about the partner than their application might reveal because we have received multiple years of final reports, have had phone call or Zoom visits throughout the year and done site visits or otherwise built relationships between partners and staff and (the) Advisory Committee,” Barnes said.

Astudillo said her involvement is rewarding in a number of ways.

“Being part of the Advisory Committee allows me to see much closer the work of our church: meet the people who are being supported, the issues we engage in, the impact we are making in the lives of others who are normally not in our local community,” she said. “This experience also teaches me what is happening in the world and how people of goodwill are working very hard to transform their communities and make their world a better place.”

The Presbyterian Hunger Program is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. It is supported by your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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