Creative thinking and partnerships feed many
By Kirk Perucca | Presbyterians Today
As pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, my job is to make things happen that are sometimes out of the box — like starting a food pantry for musicians.
Early in 2010, our church drummer, Sam Johnson Jr., wondered if a pantry for musicians could happen. He stated that he “had all these cats to feed.”
Kansas City is a wonderful jazz city and so the “cats” he was talking about were not the feline kind. “Cats” is a term that Sam used to refer to his musician friends. The conversation continued with our session, and soon the Musicians Food Pantry was opened twice a month at the church.
Nothing happens in a vacuum, including feeding the hungry. Soon after opening the pantry, Village Presbyterian, our sister church that shares our passion for jazz, urban ministry and feeding the hungry, reached out to support the ministry.
Today, the pantry has expanded from two to five days a week and welcomes all, not just musicians. The Musicians Food Pantry — we kept the name to honor the musicians that led to this ministry happening — is staffed by Covenant member Donna Lenhart and Orlandra Brown, church administrator. Brown manages the pantry, orders the food and works with volunteers to unload the food truck.
In 2018, we served more than 3,700 households — about 11,100 individuals.
The important thing about the pantry is that it serves anyone who walks in the door. Jesus didn’t ask if hungry people had two forms of identification. Jesus didn’t ask if a person lived in the pantry’s ZIP code. And Jesus certainly didn’t ask, “Weren’t you here last week?”
In addition to our neighbors, we take referrals from the Community Action Agency of Greater Kansas City, serving as a satellite pantry.
Partnering with others is important when seeking to serve those in need, especially since we wanted our pantry to be a client choice pantry. A client choice pantry is where neighbors choose what they want, rather than receive a prepackaged bag of groceries.
Before becoming a client choice pantry, we were giving every neighbor cans of green beans. After becoming a client choice pantry, we found that green beans weren’t very popular. We are able to offer more food variety by partnering with a local community food network.
The client food choice approach has proven to be successful. Clients like to be able to pick their food items. We’re all about giving people choice, options and most of all, dignity.
Still, there is so much that can be done beyond providing food. We at Covenant Presbyterian are advocating for more systemic approaches to food insecurity by partnering with Village Presbyterian in its computer ministry, which helps with resume writing; helping people register to vote; providing space for candidates to gather signatures to qualify for elected office; and creating a community garden and teaching about food sovereignty, nutrition and healthy meal preparation. The latter is very important since we are located in a designated food desert.
With so many people coming through our doors for the pantry and our other programs, we saw an opportunity to do more.
In early 2017, Covenant Community Health and Wellness Center opened. We brought on board a registered nurse, Laura Hyland, who serves as our faith community nurse. Hyland, along with two other community health workers who volunteer, greet people from the pantry and ask, “Do you have anything that you would like to talk about regarding your health?”
In the past two years, more than 900 individuals have been assisted with their health care, taking advantage of health screenings, medical referrals, fitness and health classes. The wellness center also works to engage the community. We have convened the Southeast Kansas City Youth Coalition, focusing on alcohol, tobacco, drugs, violence and suicide.
Covenant Community Health and Wellness Center and our food pantry services have made a real difference in our community. We are grateful for our ministry and the community support we receive to strengthen our neighborhood.
And it all began with an out-of-the-box idea from a musician who simply wanted to help feed his “cats.”
Kirk Perucca is the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Missouri.
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