Legacy now includes becoming a Hunger Action Congregation
December 6, 2021
First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown in Yorktown Heights, New York, recently became a Hunger Action Congregation, capping off a long tradition of serving the community through a food pantry and other endeavors.
Churches qualify for certification as Hunger Action Congregations through the Presbyterian Hunger Program when they are active in these areas: hunger alleviation, development assistance, hunger education, lifestyle integrity, corporate and public policy witness, and worship.
“Although we’ve just been recently certified, this has been something the church has been very attuned with for a long time,” said Ellen Miles, the Hunger Action Congregation Team Lead for the church.
The crown jewel of FPCY’s hunger-action efforts is a twice-a-month food pantry that’s evolved over time to meet community needs. It has been around for more than 30 years and serves individuals and families living within about 10 miles of the church.
“FPCY’s ministry to tackle hunger started out in a very humble way, 15 to 25 bags of food twice a month to people who were hungry from a literal pantry closet in the church,” said the Rev. Chip Low, co-pastor and coach. “It was a simple and straightforward task. Then we began asking questions that moved this ministry from something transactional twice a month to what it means to engage in food justice ministry and how does that ministry ask deeper, more meaningful, more relational and transformational questions of us and the people we serve.”
Low continued, “This has happened over time as we listened to the lives of those who come to our pantry, explored the shortcomings of programs like SNAP (the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), gone on national and international mission trips that were less about building something and more about learning the impact of our lives on others, explored biblical texts, including the differences between Jesus’ compassionate response in the feeding of the 5,000 and the disciples’ response, and then asking, ‘What is all of this asking us to become as well as do?’”
FPCY attracts a large number of food recipients — 175 to 180 families each time the pantry opens or closer to 275 (per pantry opening) during the height of the pandemic — and makes sure that bags are given out with a full portion of friendliness and compassion.
“While we don’t see the same clients every time, there are some regulars and we have real relationships with them,” said Katharine Frase, co-leader of the food pantry. “Some of them have been coming long enough that we can ask about their kids or their dog … and I think that really is different. While we try to be efficient, the compassion is really important.”
She recalled an older gentleman who was eager to share a vintage photograph of himself along with some buddies and Marilyn Monroe. “What really tickled me is that we were the people he wanted to show that picture, which really speaks to relationship,” Frase said.
Most recipients come to the church to receive bags of food, which are loaded into their vehicle by volunteers for health and safety reasons during the pandemic. The church also takes bags of food to two senior complexes and is involved in local programs to feed the homeless.
“They’re broad-based efforts,” Miles said. “Lots of folks in the congregation are involved, but in terms of the actual coordination of these initiatives, it’s really a handful of people, which is just amazing. … It’s kind of a well-oiled machine.”
FPCY also has members serving on the town of Yorktown’s Food Security Task Force, and the church is searching for ways to make the community more aware of the factors that contribute to hunger and household financial crises.
“Say you’ve got a family of four and both adults are working full-time but minimum wage; they can’t afford an apartment,” said Frase, co-chair of the task force. “The vast majority of my (pantry) clients are working. They just can’t feed their families.”
Some of the produce that’s distributed by FPCY’s pantry is grown at a community garden that adults and youths from church help to tend as part of an interfaith collaboration that also benefits other pantries in the area.
Darla Carter, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Food insecurity
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Cindy Ealy, Budget Assistant, Office of the General Assembly
Lindy Ebbs, Administrator, Constituency Relationships, Relationship & Development Operations, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
God of all peoples, help us to trust that you will bring to completion by the day of Jesus Christ the good work you have begun. In the name of Jesus. Amen.