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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Detroit church combines forces with Make Food Not Waste


Teamwork benefits the hungry and the environment

January 25, 2022

Detroit’s Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church teamed up with Make Food Not Waste to produce Thanksgiving dinners to feed about 5,000 people last year. (Photo courtesy of JAPC)

A partnership between Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church in Detroit and an organization that works to reduce food waste is helping to feed the hungry while also helping to protect the planet.

Make Food Not Waste, an environmental organization that makes use of donated food, and Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian, a Certified Hunger Action Congregation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), began working together in 2020 to provide prepared meals to needy Detroiters, including single mothers, older people and the working poor.

“It’s been actually kind of wonderful,” said Mission Committee chair Paul Booker, who helps distribute food and goes every Tuesday and Thursday to wash dishes for the chefs.

He recalls being at a warehouse for another church project when the initial connection with Danielle Todd, founder of Make Food Not Waste, was made. Discussions would eventually lead to a holiday feast for the community in 2020.

“She had said to me, ‘What do you think about doing Thanksgiving dinner?’ And I said, ‘Sure, I would be interested.’ I’m thinking a couple of turkeys in the oven, 20–30 dinners and we’re out the door. This is not a big deal,” Booker said. “It turned out to be 1,000 dinners,” serving four to six people per meal prepared by professionals from local restaurants and paid for with grant money from Make Food Not Waste.

A refrigerated truck was brought to the church for the distribution of the dinners from the parking lot in what became known as the “Feeding the 5,000” initiative.

“It actually worked really well, and we kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s keep this going,’” Booker said. “So, I felt God was putting everything in place.”

The partnership has been a perfect fit for a church looking to serve the community during the pandemic and an organization that strives to keep waste out of landfills.

“Here we are: two groups with two different missions that found alignment in a particular time,” said the Rev. Matt Nickel, Jefferson Avenue’s pastor. “I’m very grateful for the way the church has responded and fulfilled its call.”

Andrew Kang Bartlett, national associate for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, said, “While we often say, ‘Everything is connected,’ it is so inspiring to see a congregation demonstrating this principle in their ministry.”

The church has been vital to Make Food Not Waste, which acquires food from various sources.

“The ingredients are donated food,” Todd said. Sources of the surplus items include “urban farms, suburban farms, grocery stores, restaurants, food distributors, backyard gardens. I mean, you name it.”

Making use of that surplus is not only a way to address food insecurity but also to help the environment. “When we waste food, we waste all the resources that go into growing our food,” Todd said. “And also, when food is in landfills and decomposes, it produces methane, which is one of the most harmful greenhouse gases. Reducing food waste is considered one of the best solutions to climate change.”

Rescuing healthy food, getting it to those most in need and keeping it from becoming waste that would contribute to global warming is “a win for everyone and the environment,” Kang Bartlett said.

Todd and Jefferson Avenue were introduced at a time when the church was interested in finding new ways to serve the community because a previous collaboration with a school had been short-circuited due to the pandemic.

After the Thanksgiving project, Make Food Not Waste and the church teamed up again, providing 1,200 meals for Christmas, with many of them being distributed from the church parking lot, Todd said.

Then the partnership moved into a new phase. “Starting the first week of January, our chefs started preparing meals in the church kitchen in the basement. It’s a beautiful commercial kitchen,” Todd said. “The chefs cook on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then on Fridays, we invite people from the community to come” to the parking lot to pick up the meals.

People have been very grateful for the meals and the church is proud of the high quality of food that is being distributed.

“It’s not just food to fill a belly,” Nickel said. “It’s also good food, whole food, that’s delicious.”

Darla Carter, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: Hunger Action Congregation

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Steve Hoehn, Production Supervisor, Hubbard Press, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Courtney Hoekstra, Associate, Advocacy Committee Support, Executive Director’s Office, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Gracious and compassionate God, we thank you for your ministry as it works to serve hurting, hungry and homeless people. Lead us toward a world as generous and just as your abundant grace. Amen.