September 6, 2016
If Jessica Fitzgerald asks your church to get involved in hunger and poverty issues in your community, be prepared to say yes. No is not an answer she will accept. Fitzgerald is the Hunger Action Advocate for the Presbytery of Eastern Virginia. It’s one of many hats she wears for the presbytery.
“I mainly encourage churches to work in hunger and outreach ministries. Some are doing food pantries; some are partnering with other denominations close to them,” she said. “We don’t always have enough people to manage a project, so why not work together? We must have an open mind to partnering with other churches in the community.”
A few churches in the presbytery support the local food bank’s mobile pantry, while others operate their own pantries. Some churches even grow their own food, Fitzgerald said.
“We have at least 15 churches in the presbytery that have their own gardens. Some are small, while others are quite large,” she said. “The bigger gardens produce a lot of vegetables through what they call a ‘giving garden,’ giving the food away to those who need it. It’s been amazing to watch.”
Fitzgerald, a member of Third Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, has taken on the job of creating a garden at the church, and, like others, gives the vegetables to those in need.
“We at Third Presbyterian wanted to do something a little different. We use recycled pallets to make boxes or create benches with planters in them,” she said.
One of the hardest things Fitzgerald has seen is the number of active duty military families that come to the food banks. She says approximately 45 percent of those who collect food stamps or seek food are enlisted individuals who have two or more children. The families live on one income while one spouse stays home with the children to save on child care costs.
Fitzgerald says that during the past year, the Southeastern Virginia Food Bank has served over 15 million meals to those struggling with food insecurity, including more than 6,000 children. During that time, she adds, the Virginia Peninsula Food Bank has distributed 10 million pounds of food to residents struggling with hunger across the greater peninsula.
“The biggest struggle I have is hearing churches say they are too small and can’t do anything to help. I don’t accept that. It’s not an answer,” she said. “There’s got to be another church nearby that wants to do something and needs help. You’ve got to partner and do it together.”
Fitzgerald credits the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) and interaction with other Hunger Action Advocates with inspiring her in the work.
“That relationship is very important, especially when I’m frustrated and don’t know where to go,” she said. “It’s a good sounding board, to connect with other people in the denomination doing the same thing or have the same passion for this work. The resources are great, and it is encouraging to know the church is praying for me.”
“Hunger Action Advocates are a vital part of the PHP’s local work as they serve presbyteries as educators and motivators,” said Jessica Maudlin, associate for the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Enough for Everyone ministry. “Jessica is a great example of how Hunger Action Advocates assist congregations and other groups to become engaged with the hunger needs in their own communities, while at the same time connecting congregations to the broader church around topics like hunger-related development assistance, public policy advocacy, lifestyle issues, and environmental justice.”
Rick Jones, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Presbytery of Eastern Virginia
Let us join in prayer for:
Rev. Liza Hendricks, General Presbyter
Elder Q. John Tamm, Stated Clerk
Elder Linda Smith, Administrator/Journal Clerk
Elder Jessica A. Fitzgerald, Administrative Assistant/Hunger Action Advocate
Regan Knutson, Business Administrator
Catherine Hart Monroe, Campus Ministry UPM/ODU
Chad Rockett, Makemie Woods Camp and Conference Center/Operations Manager
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Christ, the Bread of Life, one day as you and your disciples looked over a multitude of people, you instructed your disciples to feed the hungry. May we continue to heed your instruction, reaching out to those who hunger for bread, for community, for you. As we share food, may we all know the abundance of your love and compassion. Amen.