Food Insecurity: Why and How Your Church Should Care
By: Sherri Gragg
According to the USDA, more than six million American children live in food-insecure households. Is your community at risk?
Why Your Church Should Care
Many Texans are hungry.
Smith County, Texas is one snapshot of food insecurity among many in the Texas Annual Conference. The United States Census Bureau cites the median household income in Smith County as $48,683, well below the Texas average of $56,565. In contrast, the median household income in the United States is $61,372, placing 12.3 percent of Americans below the poverty line.
According to Feeding America, there are 42,160 food insecure people in Smith County, 19.2 percent of their population. Nearby Nacogdoches county’s numbers are even more grim where the rate of food insecurity tops out at 22.2 percent.
Jesus cares about empty stomachs.
Marvin UMC Senior Pastor, the Rev. Doug Baker points out that when we feed the hungry, we are following Christ’s teaching found in Matthew 25:31-46 in which Jesus equated our compassion for the needy with ministry to him. “Twenty-five percent of Smith County residents are at risk of hunger,” Baker said, “Part of our annual budget supports the efforts of the Food Bank, PATH (People Attempting to Help), and St. Paul’s Children’s Foundation. We are also working with our partner school to start an urban farming program.”
Food insecurity negatively impacts a child’s opportunity to learn.
The American Youth Policy Forum reports that children from food insecure homes lag behind their peers in every area of development. Furthermore, they get sick more often resulting in increased school absences. Marvin UMC Missions Director Melissa Brigman says the church has witnessed the problem as they work alongside St. Paul’s Children’s Foundation and Bonner Elementary School. “We have been a partner with St. Paul’s from the beginning,” Brigman said, “We thought it was so important for St. Paul’s to have a food pantry because in our work with Bonner Elementary School, we have seen that if kids don’t have proper nutrition, they can’t learn.”
It is in your Wesleyan DNA.
John Wesley embraced the practice of giving to the poor as a young man. He intentionally lived far below his means so that he could give more to those in need. Wesley believed that Christians were blessed by God not for self-indulgence, but for the benefit of others stating emphatically- “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”
How Your Church Can Make a Difference
Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan illustrates a powerful and simple truth- Before we can truly make a difference in the life of someone in need, we must first pause long enough to truly see them. It is why Brigman encourages churches to get out into their communities.
“Every year, we have Mission Week in which we go out into the community and repair homes. Once when we were on a site visit in which a family needed new appliances, I opened the refrigerator to check it. Inside, there was one stick of butter. That was it. The family had eight children. It had a profound impact on me. I will never forget it,” Brigman said.
There is a wealth of information on-line as well. One particularly useful tool is the Feeding America- Map the Meal Gap Project in which an interactive map provides up to date information on food insecurity by county. You can learn more about the hungry close to home here.
Establish Ecumenical partnerships.
Impacting food scarcity can be overwhelming, but there is no reason to try alone. Ecumenical partnerships are flourishing throughout the Texas Conference. Churches are partnering with food banks, and joining hands and brainpower with other churches to find real solutions.
St. Paul’s Children’s Foundation recently launched the Smith County Food Security Council, of which Marvin UMC is an important partner. “Ecumenical partnerships are awesome,” said Brigman. “We couldn’t do it without them. It is a great time to come together. I encourage other churches to form a coalition, a think tank on how to impact hunger. When we work together we accomplish so much more.”
Do Something. Anything.
And finally, Brigman urges churches to just do something. Find out what is already happening in your community and jump on board. There are food pantries that need donations. Schools in which hungry children would love to have prepacked sacks of non-perishable food to take home for the weekends. Plant a community garden. Even the smallest acts have the power to change lives.
One hungry child at a time.