Today in the Mission Yearbook

Hunger Action Congregations run toward food security


Third Presbyterian Church in New York has long history of community engagement

December 16, 2018

Twenty-seven years of Saturdays, approximately 1,400 consecutive weekends of serving the “best meal in town,” is a pretty good track record of commitment. That’s how long Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York, has been running its dining room ministry, a program that serves approximately 80 people each week. But that’s not enough for this 1,200-member congregation in north central New York. Their emergency food program has been similarly active for more than 20 years, and another hunger initiative, the East Avenue Grocery Run, a mere child at 9 years old, might be the most impactful program of all three.

“We’ve been doing this a long time, and our folks are really passionate about it,” said Lynette Sparks, associate pastor for outreach and evangelism at Third Presbyterian. “When we started our dining room ministry 27 years ago, literally no one came that first Saturday. And yet our volunteers kept at it and figured out how to get the word out. Now it’s going strong and we’re looking at how to expand it over the next 25 years. We take pride in it, and some of our guests say it’s the best meal in town.”

Third Presbyterian has been a Presbyterian Hunger Program Certified Hunger Action Congregation since 2017, but has been addressing hunger and food security issues in its community for more than two decades. Ten volunteer teams rotate their time to serve the dining room ministry’s Saturday meals. Some of the volunteers are Third Presbyterian members, but many of the dedicated helpers come from the larger community, including other faith and non-faith communities in Rochester.

Their emergency food program also had humble beginnings more than 20 years ago; it started as just handing out extra things that were available in the church office.

Now, “our food cupboard is open two mornings each week and we average about 25 families each day, but it’s higher toward the end of the month,” said Sparks. “Our church went through an extensive renovation about 10 years ago; creating a dedicated space for the food cupboard and renovating the commercial-grade kitchen for the dining room ministry was a big focus of that renovation.”

Third Presbyterian Church’s East Avenue Grocery Run raises funds for local hunger ministries. Photo provided

For all of its hunger ministry work, it’s Third Presbyterian’s youngest initiative that might have the biggest community impact. The East Avenue Grocery Run has been a hit from the start. More than 150 volunteers help plan and execute it, and corporate sponsors cover the cost of implementing the events and infrastructure. That allows all of the registration fees and extra funds that participants raise to go directly to hunger programs throughout Rochester. Sparks estimates the runs have generated more than $230,000 for food programs.

“This event not only covers and supports all of our direct food costs for our food programs, it also provides funding for up to 15 other food programs in the city and Foodlink, our area food bank,” said Sparks. “We don’t care what food program you run for — you can raise money for any food program you like. We have systemic challenges in Rochester, with high poverty levels, and food insecurity is huge. As much as we’re doing, we’re only scratching the surface.”

“Congregations like Third Presbyterian are making the connection between hunger in their communities and systems that perpetuate hunger,” says Andrew Kang Bartlett, associate for national hunger concerns in the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “And making connections between hunger and poverty, and the underlying systemic causes, is the purpose of the Food Week of Action.”

Sparks says that the Rochester community is engaged and eager to help, and that they see their volunteer numbers continue to increase over time.

“We have a study group and leadership team that has spent the past year doing an in-depth missional study asking, ‘What does it mean to deepen our ministry?’” said Sparks. “How can we find ways to partner with our guests, so we can continue to grow? We’re doing a lot of work looking at a range of services that goes from pure charity all the way to community development and asking ourselves what it means to provide better hospitality, more mutuality and see where we can partner elsewhere for the long term.”

Scott O’Neill, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Hunger Action Congregations

Let us join in prayer for:

Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York, Staff

John Wilkinson, Pastor
Lynette Sparks, Associate Pastor for Outreach and Evangelism
Roderic P. Frohman, Pastor Emeritus
Ernest Krug, Parish Associate
Peter A. DuBois, Director of Music/Organist
Mary Ann Rutkowski, Associate Director of Music
Rebecca D’Angelo-Veitch, Children’s Ministry/Congregational Fellowship Coordinator
Jane Carden, Youth Ministry Coordinator
Alden Wright, Assistant Organist

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Margaret Farmer, PMA
Joe Ferguson, PMA

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, thank you for all you have provided for us. Allow our lives to reflect the service and love that you call us to share. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, December 16, 2018, the Third Sunday of Advent (Year C)