Food for thought

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Congregations tackle rising hunger problems

Three women preparing a meal

Volunteers (left to right): Jo Ebert, Lillian Stoltzfus and Lois Ann Mast cook meals for people in need in their congregation. Thanks to your membership, an Everence Sharing Fund grant helped their efforts.

Morgantown, Pa., Lois Ann Mast can only guess at the reasons behind the rise in “U.S. food insecurity” – the scholarly term for hunger – but she does have a good recipe for lowering it.

In Harrisonburg, Va., Brian Posey suspects the best answer may be to pack a bag before things get any worse.

The latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (2008) will turn your stomach: The number of hungry households has reached its highest level since national food security surveys were started in 1995.

That boils down to about 17 million U.S. households, or 15 percent of the families around us. The elderly make up an alarming 10 percent of those households. About a million children are also affected.

But in a busy kitchen at Conestoga Mennonite Church, Mast and five others came up with “Meals from the heart” to take a bite out of the problem. To start the ministry, the congregation raised funds and an Everence Sharing Fund grant matched its first $1,000.

Each month, Mast and friends cook 100 meals for elderly and infirmed people. Each meal is individually packaged, labeled with ingredients, and comes with a small dessert. This ministry fits well with a food pantry Conestoga started last year.

“Getting together to cook is so much fun,” confessed Mast, the congregation’s Everence advocate and a deaconess. “We love to cook, and there’s a definite need out there.”

Roughly 250 miles away at Lacey Spring Elementary School, teachers began noticing children were having difficulty focusing on Monday mornings, said Posey, pastor for Harrisonburg’s Grace Mennonite Fellowship. Why? No school lunch on weekends.

Working with teacher Brenda Robey, he brought together six local churches in October 2010 to begin filling backpacks with food. Using congregational contributions and a $400 Everence Sharing Fund grant, the Back Pack Program provides food for 43 children weekly. Similar backpack programs are popping up around the country to help children make it through weekends.

“I was surprised at the number of children,” admitted Posey. “If we helped all the children in need, it would rise to well over 100.”

While hunger increases among all ages, these churches are serving up something special. “Even though people are busy, they step up,” said Mast. “That’s Jesus at work in our congregation.”

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.

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