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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Presbyterian hunger ministries persevere despite pandemic


‘People are desperate to help’

July 14, 2020

Presbyterian churches across the country are stepping up to feed the hungry, using ingenuity and elbow grease to help their communities despite being thrown some curveballs by the coronavirus.

From converting their little book libraries to little food pantries to providing curbside service, Hunger Action Congregations are feeding individuals and families as the virus closes schools and businesses and drives many people into unemployment.

Calvary Presbyterian Church in South Pasadena, California, grows food for people in need. (Contributed photo)

“There’s a lot of people that are going to be significantly impacted by this (pandemic), and so any help that we can give to our neighbors, we should give to our neighbors, and our neighbors are everyone,” said Elizabeth Daley, chair of the Mission Committee of Calvary Presbyterian Church in South Pasadena, California.

Hunger Action Congregations are recognized and resourced by the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “Through One Great Hour of Sharing, PHP is able to network with and support these and other excellent congregational ministries,” PHP coordinator Rebecca Barnes said.

Second Blessings food pantry at First Presbyterian Church of Union, Missouri, has been experiencing increased demand for food in recent weeks as more and more employers have shed workers.

“We’ve got a lot of people filling out applications to be able to get food,” said Becki Gillihan, president of Second Blessings. Along with waitresses from closed restaurants, “we’ve had mechanics because nobody is going. …We’ve had casino workers because the casinos around here let everybody go. A lot of different jobs” are affected, she said.

As Second Blessings and other food ministries from California to New Jersey strive to help people, they also are changing their methods when necessary to fit the times.

Large gatherings are no longer appropriate as the country desperately tries to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Grocery stock isn’t as plentiful as it once was, partly due to panic buying and, in some cases, restrictions being imposed by stores.

“We have seen many food pantries in New York City close and disruptions in supply chains is part of the reason,” said Andrew Kang Bartlett, a PHP associate for National Hunger Concerns. “Various things in the food system will contribute and compound this problem, including the tightened U.S.-Mexico border and a predicted shortage of farm workers.”

Another challenge for food ministries is social distancing, the now all-too-familiar term for trying to stay several feet from the next person to keep from catching the coronavirus.

In Union, people who used to visit Second Blessings could come indoors to shop for food. For the last three weeks, the food has been distributed outside, with steps being taken to ensure that volunteers remain a safe distance from families.

“We have people stay in their car,” Gillihan said. “One of our volunteers goes outside and stands at a certain point and then he directs them to stand on the sidewalk and we have it mapped out for them to be a certain distance away from each other.”

Eventually, after the person shows their ID at a church window, opened just slightly, the food is wheeled out to the end of a ramp. Then, from a safe distance, the person is directed to pick up their food, she said.

Afterward, “we bring the cart back in, we wipe it down and we do it all over again,” she said.

Despite the challenge of doing food distribution that way, it’s “important that as long as we can, we hang in there,” Gillihan said. “We love doing what we’re doing, and it’s actually been uplifting because we’ve even had the city of Union contacting all of the different stores to try to collect food for us because the other local pantry closed. We’re the only one in this area. It’s kind of nice seeing everybody rally.”

Hunger Action Congregations “are faithfully carrying out vital roles in their communities and are doing amazing work to meet local needs,” Kang Bartlett said.

Darla Carter, Communications Associate, Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Presbyterian Hunger Ministries

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Yvonne Hileman, Presbyterian Women
Casey Hill, Presbyterian Foundation

Let us pray:

O Lord, grant to all your servants the joy of being in your community and the courage to work faithfully for your kingdom. May willing spirits be drawn ever closer into your covenant. By your Holy Spirit, equip all your servants for the glorious calling to be your people. Amen.