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Westminster Presbyterian Church uses hunger action work to address cost of living issues in Madison

The Hunger Action Congregation helps to address community needs

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

A group from Westminster Presbyterian Church volunteers at a food bank in Madison, Wisconsin. The volunteers load groceries and meals for families. (Photo courtesy of Westminster Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — In a Midwestern city where the cost of housing can affect residents’ ability to thrive, Westminster Presbyterian Church of Madison, Wisconsin is helping residents to make ends meet through various efforts to feed people in the community.

In recent years, Westminster has helped to provide snacks and other food for students, assisted homeless shelters, helped fill local food pantry shelves and held forums on important issues.

Part of the motivation is that “we just recognize the incredible need among first, the low-income (population) and now, the needs are expanding to include higher-income people who are just having trouble affording housing,” said Ruling Elder Kathy Kamp, co-chair of the mission committee. “In Madison, housing costs are incredibly expensive, and so people need to get other kinds of assistance. Food (aid) is one of the ways that they can reduce their expenses so they can afford their housing.”

In addition to that, “we have supported homeless programs for as long as I think the church has been around, and I believe that our involvement with the shelter and our involvement with people who are moving out of the shelters really focused our attention on food because that was something we could provide to them to help them out.”

Westminster is an example of a Hunger Action Congregation, a designation from the Presbyterian Hunger Program for churches that “follow Christ’s example of feeding the hungry, caring for those in need and working toward justice,” according to PHP.

Sept. 15 is the 2023 deadline to apply to become an HAC. Such congregations are active in at least one of these areas: hunger alleviation, development assistance, hunger education, intentional and sustainable living, corporate and public policy witness, and worship. Those who are active in all six are called Certified Hunger Action Congregations.

Westminster has been an HAC for about five years, Kamp said, and one of the things it’s realized is the importance of changing programs to keep up with community needs.

“One of the things that we find interesting, actually, about doing the food service is that from year to year that needs change, and we have to adapt our programs,” Kamp said. “It forces you to keep up with the needs in the community and make sure that you’re meeting them in the most efficient way.”

For example, a weekend food program for students is evolving this year, “so that instead of the weekly (snack) bags in lockers, we’re going to be delivering boxes of food that include fruits and vegetables and other items,” Kamp said. “That will provide a week’s worth of food and those will be delivered to the students’ homes.”

The change is being made because “what we found is that it was difficult for the kids to get stuff home, and we really wanted to move to providing more healthy options, including the produce that people need.”

Access to healthy food and produce is an issue for various reasons, including distance. “Not everyone can get to Woodman’s (grocery),” Kamp noted. “Either they don’t have transportation or carrying everything home is difficult, so we definitely have tried to think hard about how to get those healthy foods to kids.”

The church, which is part of the John Knox Presbytery, increases its effectiveness by working in collaboration with other organizations in the community.

“We’re part of an adopt-a-school program, and so we work with some other businesses and community organizations, and we all work together to try and help the schools with snacks and school supplies and other things that they need.”

The church serves as a site for a program that serves homeless students. The school district stores food at the church building and comes “once a week to load the boxes and put them in cars,” Kamp said. “It means we have a lot of people in and out of our church, and we view that to be a very positive thing.”

The church was a hub of activity even during the pandemic. Back then, “the entire west side of Madison had a food delivery program. It served about 400 families during the pandemic a week, and we put all the food in fellowship hall and people came and packed the boxes and took them; it was a really huge effort,” Kamp said. “That has slowed down after the pandemic, but we still continue to host some of those programs. We have a lot of food in our building.”

During Thanksgiving season, church members collect food and personal hygiene items to restock community food pantry shelves. “People need diapers and wipes; they can’t keep that stuff in stock,” Kamp said.

Food is collected to restock food pantry shelves. (Photo courtesy of Westminster Presbyterian Church)

One of the church’s new efforts includes forming “some teams who are going to work in a local food pantry and this food pantry uses volunteers to help people shop in the food pantry and they also make prepared meals for people that they can pick up every day so that they can have a prepared dinner,” Kamp said. “Homeless people don’t always have access to cooking facilities, and we have a substantial number of people who are sort of doubled up and living in hotels and so they need the pre-prepared meals. This food pantry provides both, and we are putting together a team of people who will go once or twice a month to work at that pantry.”

Some of the church’s other efforts include keeping people informed about issues in the community.

“Usually, we do an adult forum twice a month or so on different issues, and last year, particularly, we focused on food and homelessness,” Kamp said. “This year, there’ll be a couple of adult forums on housing and food. … When the confirmation classes get involved, we usually do an adult forum that the kids are involved in, and they help do the publicity and stuff for the food drive. We have what we also call Minute for Mission, where during the service, we’re able to talk about different things that we’re doing and periodically, the Minute for Mission will be on food and food need.”

The church makes its voice heard in the community by doing “some advocacy around food, particularly around budget issues at the city and state level that relate to food programs.”

Signs point to the need for the food ministry to remain strong. “I think that the number of people who need food is expanding, and I think it will continue … as prices for goods and services increase because of inflation,” Kamp said. “People need to look for areas in their budget where they can find some relief.”

For more information about Hunger Action Congregations, go here.

The Presbyterian Hunger Program is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Its work is made possible by One Great Hour of Sharing.

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