Indiana congregation's 'meat ministry' delivers

Everyday Stewardship |

Saving food for people who need it

Saving food for people who need it

Joe Custer
Meat that was destined for a landfill is ending up on the plates of people in need, thanks to Bethany Church of the Brethren and member Joe Custer.

Bethany, near New Paris, Ind., and Joe have teamed up for about seven years to salvage thousands of pounds of meat and make it available for distribution through food pantries, charitable organizations and churches.

Bethany’s “meat ministry,” which benefited recently from a Sharing Fund grant from Everence, started when Joe was working at a supermarket in nearby Kendallville, Ind. One day, Joe’s boss told him to throw a box of meat –about 50 pounds’ worth – into one of the store’s trash containers because the meat had reached its expiration date.

“I was horrified,” Joe said, at the thought of throwing away meat that was still safe to eat. Joe good-naturedly asked the store manager what would happen if he took the discarded meat out of the trash. The manager replied that he’d have to fire Joe because that would be considered theft. “I realized he was serious,” Joe said.

Joe took another job unrelated to the supermarket, but the thrown-away meat situation still bothered him so when he retired, Joe went to talk to the store manager again.

“I asked if they could freeze it and I’d buy it a box at a time and donate it to a food pantry.” The manager agreed to approach his bosses with the idea, and they gave their OK. “They sold it to me for 80 cents a pound.”

Joe and his wife, Mary, at first donated the meat to a food pantry. But one day, the supermarket manager called Joe to ask him if he’d want to buy a skid of meat – 30 to 40 boxes – that other supermarkets had sent to his store.

“So we went to Bethany, our home church, and laid the situation out for them.” The church then started buying the meat and distributing it, with Joe’s help.

“In 2010, we gave away over 65,000 pounds of meat,” Joe said. A lot of it goes to charitable organizations that give away food (and have plenty of freezer space.)

The meat varies from T-bones or prime rib to hot dogs, chicken, pork and deli items.

Organizations receiving the meat from Bethany often reimburse the church but sometimes, they don’t have the money to do that so it becomes a donation from the church.

When the church fund was depleted, the women’s fellowship donated some money and asked Everence for a matching Sharing Fund grant.

Joe doesn’t accept credit for his volunteerism. “There’s no heroes here,” he said. He and Mary “made the meat our offering to the church” until the church assumed the expenses.

Joe says his role now is, “I get to drive the truck,” which he borrows from a fellow church member.

One good thing Joe has noticed recently is that the store is throwing away less meat than it was a couple of years ago, which he interprets as a sign that the economy is improving and shoppers have a bit more to spend.

This story comes from a recent grant application to the Everence Sharing Fund. In some cases, names have been changed out of respect for the privacy of the families.

Everence brand mark


Everence staff

Everence Sharing Fund

When you buy an Everence product, you become part of a community that provides financial support to those in need. It's called the Everence Sharing Fund, and it's one of the distinctive ways we support our members and their communities.


Donate today Learn more