Parish Outreach in the Diocese of Louisiana
by Lillie Martin
A mobile pantry open to the public takes place at St. John Baptist Church on Panola Street, New Orleans, the first Wednesday of every month. The goal is to provide healthier food options for many of the struggling residents of the Pigeontown neighborhood. The problem isn’t just the inaccessibility of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, but also the high prices are out of range for many in the area.
Linda Mathies from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church saw a need in the area for such an event, and thus the Carrollton Area Food Pantry was founded. St. Andrew’s formed a partnership with Chapel of the Holy Spirit, providing an intern responsible for volunteer coordination, and St. John Baptist Church, providing the space for the mobile pantry. Since the opening day on August 1, dedicated volunteers from all three congregations show up each month to distribute fresh food provided by Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans & Acadiana.
The presence of the mobile pantry is spread through word of mouth, mostly through St. John Baptist church members, and also flyers that hopefully will reach a wider audience.
Channell Scott, 18, comes with her grandfather, who is on food stamps. She explains that food banks, like the Carrollton Area Food Pantry, are particularly necessary towards the end of the month as paychecks are running out as well as during the summer when children aren’t provided with school lunches.
“Even the homeless can come and receive food,” says Channell, who also believes that this is not a permanent solution to the food issues in the neighborhood, but rather something that helps people get back on their feet in a rough patch.
The Carrollton Area Food Pantry is meant to encourage religion and interfaith works by showing people that God has a way of working things out and helping faith meet real need. This ministry is an opportunity to share and can be the catalyst for spiritual growth with the impact of literal aid.
One afternoon this summer, St. John’s pastor, Rev. Don Boutte, and his wife went to their knees in prayer asking God to provide a way to feed the hungry people his church serves. The next day Linda Mathies called inquiring about St. John’s willingness to join in this partnership. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Chapel of the Holy Spirit had everything in place but a location to start this ministry. Not only did St. John Baptist Church have available space but they could bring into the partnership a long history of relationship building throughout the neighborhood. God working things out indeed!
While there are no tangible plans for expanding in the future, Deacon Marc Smith of St. John’s discusses the need for such a program and how to make it as accessible as possible, “All churches should help the community and not just the church community. These mobile pantries need to be weekly, and all over the city.” In his mind, they “feed spirituality and faith,” but there also has to be a more permanent solution for aiding the neighborhood.
All three churches praise the interfaith and interracial community building and outreach work. Each month the Carrollton Area Food Pantry serves about 165 families and brings spiritual peace to both the volunteers and those in need.
by Pamela Marquis, MSW
Another Sunday morning and the air in St. George’s Episcopal Church is redolent with the heavenly scents of breakfast: freshly-brewed coffee, sizzling savory sausage and crusty biscuits rising in a steaming hot oven. The kitchen is humming with the efforts of a dedicated core of volunteers getting ready to serve a hearty breakfast to the many guests waiting to enter the church’s Dragon Café.
The cafe began in the tumult of post-Katrina New Orleans. St. George’s took on the task of feeding the many hungry people who came through their doors in need of a hot meal, companionship and solace. That ministry has continued and evolved through the years.
Two years ago the decision was made to shift from serving dinner two nights a week to serving breakfast once per week. Though the decision was primarily economic (a nutritious breakfast is cheaper to fix than a nutritious dinner), the church soon discovered the many benefits breakfast offered the hungry at-risk population they serve.
“Breakfast provides our guests incentive to get up and eat a hot meal rather than less healthy alternatives,” says Thaddeus Azore, a security guard who’s worked with with the program since its inception. “Stability in people’s lives is so important. Lots of people struggle moment to moment making lifestyle decisions. And sometimes they make the wrong decision in that moment simply because they are hungry. There aren’t bad people, just people who make bad decisions. So the fact that they’re going to eat a good meal can help make their next decision a better more positive one.”
“The Dragon Café is a major part of who St. George’s is,” says Kelly Eldridge, volunteer coordinator. “It is a big part of our mission to feed the hungry. This kind of fell into our laps after Katrina and has blossomed into what it is now. We have a very simple hope that at St. George’s, no one ever leaves hungry.”
Come rain or shine the cafe doors opens every Sunday morning. The numbers vary from week to week but Eldridge says on average they serve about 90 meals between 8:30 and 9:30 am. The guests not only received a hot breakfast but a nutritious sack lunch as well.
“It also gives the guests a change to sit down and have some fellowship,” says volunteer Tom Forbes. “We don’t just hustle them in and then hustle them out.”
The parishioners also often sit down and share breakfast with their guests joining into lively discussions about the Saints, the weather and the economy.
“This is a one of the few places I feel safe,” says Anna, a woman who comes to the breakfast on a regular basis. “This is just so clean and homelike.”
Eldridge, as many of the volunteers, is passionate about their work because she sees the difference it makes in the lives of the people they serve. She tells of a hand-written note the church received in January of 2010. It said:
“Dear Good People: Here is a small contribution towards the Dragon Café. I have just brought my son to Asheville and he’s told me about having meals at your church. Your program has probably saved his life. I am deeply, beyond words, grateful.”
More information about the Dragon Cafe can be found: http://www.stgeorge-nola.org/dragon-cafe
written by Pamela Marquis, MSW Congregation:
Location: Downtown Baton Rouge
Congregation:St. James Episcopal Church
St. James Episcopal Church, which started in 1844, has always strived to be present to the needs around them. The church is active in more than 40 ministries. One of these ministries, the St. James Food Pantry was opened 26 years ago. It is a designated distribution site of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. Each month, the food bank serves over 100 people and is open the first and third Wednesday mornings.
“The city’s homeless and hungry are an ever-present reality here,” says Allen Patterson, coordinator of the St. James Food Pantry. “ There is a real need, a need we could not ignore.”
“Due to things such as unemployment, poverty, the lack of affordable housing, the periodic downturns of our economy and countless others reasons, so many families are struggling,” says Nancy Penn church member & the founder of the St. James Food Pantry.
When St. James started its food pantry there were no food banks in the area. So Penn went into Baton Rouge’s poorer neighborhoods and talked to the people who lived there. She spoke to the ministers in the area and to the doctors who treated the poor. “I didn’t want to just assume I knew what people needed,” she says. “ I wanted to find out from the community leaders what they needed and see how our church could best help.”
Since its beginning the St. James feeding ministry has reached thousands of people in need. Nancy Penn lovingly shares a few of their stories.
“One man had a terrible kidney problem and could not work for a long time,” says Penn. “He was on dialysis. Now he’s all right and he is the most grateful person in the world. Another lady suddenly wound up with three grandchildren and she just had a retirement check to pay for her grocery needs. She came to us and when the grandchildren were fine, she started donating her time here at the pantry. We have so many great stories.”
St. James Church, with its many strengths and talents, continues to make a positive difference in the lives of the needy people who pass their doors.
“I had pretty much given up on people, but the kindness I found here gave me hope again and a feeling that things can maybe turn around for me,” says Michael, one of the neighbors St. James serves.
Starting a Food Bank Ministry
Starting a ministry to feed the hungry can be as simple as contacting an existing food pantry in your area and planning food drives at your church. Or if you want to start small, all you will need is a space to store food, a few metal cabinets for boxed goods and a shelf to hold can goods. Then simply ask church members to bring at least two items of food (non-perishables) each time they come to church. Keep a list of what comes in and slowly you will begin to build a pantry that can help during times of need.
The people of St. James Episcopal Church offer more advice on how to start a food pantry:
How to Guide: Start A Food Pantry
Did you know 22% of children under the age of 18 are struggling with hunger in Louisiana? Check out these resources to learn more facts about hunger and ways you can take action to end hunger in your community:
Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank
Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans & Acadiana
Share our Strength
Note: This article, video, and how to guide were written as part of the Asset Mapping project being produced by Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana with support from Episcopal Relief and Development. For more information about the project, contact Karen Mackey (email@example.com).
More information about the outreach ministries of St. James Episcopal Church: http://www.stjamesbr.org/outreach.html
by Pamela Marquis, MSW
In 2004 Boots and Warren Green happily served as members of St. James’ Greeters Guild sharing the church’s warm hospitality with the people who entered the reception center in the Ministries Center. But along with the people who came to visit daily, also came the poor looking for food, clothing and just a little bit of help.
“We wanted to do something for them,” says Warren Green. “We didn’t want to keep turning them away and turning them down.”
So with help from the church’s staff and others of the congregation, they started the We Care program, which now distributes approximately 50 lunch bags of ready-to-eat food from the Ministries Center each weekday morning.
“Nutrition was the most important thing to us,” Green says. “We wanted them to have energy, and the sack lunches allowed them to eat when they needed it.”
The bags also include a note, picture, or Bible verse. The lunches are often prepared by St. James Episcopal Day School’s 5th and 6th graders.
“I have kids who just bring in paper bags filled with treats from their homes and ask me to add it to the We Care bags,” says Amelia Johnson, directory of Christian Education. “I also had a kindergarten student bring me $2. She said the tooth fairy had been good to her and she thought she should share with people who don’t have enough to eat.”
The We Care program also passes along helpful information. For example, when the Greens found out the Baptist church down the street gave out clothing on Thursdays, they put cards with that information into the brown bags.
Green says that at first some members of the congregation were worried about letting so many poor people into the church, but they soon warmed to all the good that were being accomplished.
“They realized just because someone lives on the street doesn’t make them bad,”he says. “They have real problems and just need help to get them through. For me, the greatest joy is when a person comes back and says, ‘This is my last bag. I got a job. God bless you for all you did to help.’ ”
More information about the St. James We Care Bags can be found here.
The Holy Grillers are a group of volunteers from St. James Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, who prepare grilled dishes for parish events, including the St. James Fifth Sunday. See them in action at a recent Fifth Sunday as they cook hamburgers for their hungry neighbors.