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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

September 14, 2018

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 a 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.

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

“We have an active church. About 1,000 people come through the building every week (members and nonmembers) 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 and a “Souper Bowl” collection on the day of the big game as well as an active social justice program for high school-age 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 hungry, 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.”

Rick Jones, Mission Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Hunger Action Congregation

Let us join in prayer for: 

Pleasantville Presbyterian Church Staff

The Rev. Dr. Debra JK Bronkema, Pastor
JoAnna Tivnan, Office Administrator
Jane Wong, Director, Loaves and Fishes LCSW
Ruth Fischer, Director, Great Beginnings Preschool
David Macdonald, Director of Music
Evan Closser, Organist and Children’s Choir Director
Ike Sturm, Director of Music, Jazz Vespers

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Miguel Vargas, OGA
Stephanie Vasquez, PMA

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we believe no one should be hungry in body or spirit. We believe we can make a difference as your disciples as we work together. Most of all, we believe in your Son, who showed us how to love one another. Amen.

Daily Readings

Morning Psalms 51; 148
First Reading Job 29:1, 31:24-40
Second Reading Acts 15:12-21
Gospel Reading John 11:30-44
Evening Psalms 142; 65

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