Accessibility for the poor: Veggies, protein, and the bread of life
If your church wants to welcome poor or working class families, you may want to consider providing nutritious food with your classes and activities for children and youth.
A few years ago, I was listening to the child of an immigrant family recite Bible verses during AWANA on a Wednesday night. She had studied at home. She was wearing the club t-shirt we had provided. She had remembered to bring her Bible.
At the end of club, I walked her over to the prize table to redeem her reward. She looked past the pink pencils and rhinestone necklaces and instead chose a packet of square cheese-flavored crackers. I watched as she divided it with her two younger siblings. The three children inhaled them, and the youngest boy, with an orange crumb still hanging on his lip, asked, “Do you have any more?”
Somehow his request felt like something more than childish indulgence, so we started chatting. The children had not eaten anything that day but a school lunch and a handful of chips when they got home. Their hard-working parents, both minimum-wage earners, were already at their day jobs when the kids left for school in the morning, and they were at their secondary jobs when someone picked them up for church.
Until that moment, I had always assumed that hungry people looked hungry. These kids were neat, clean, and polite. Had they looked bedraggled, I might have picked up on their need sooner.
We discovered that several children in our church faced similar circumstances. Immigrant parents were working 16 hours per day or more, and food available in the home was hit or miss. Some Wednesday nights, the kids had eaten, but other times, they had not.
Sometimes, even children of families with more money tumbled through the doors without a solid meal, as they had been in after-school care or in other activities until minutes before the start of club. Their overly scheduled parents may have given them a granola bar or a banana to hold them over until later.
We decided to start feeding tummies in addition to feeding hearts, minds, and souls. Behavior problems decreased. Focus and enthusiasm in the lessons increased. Parents thanked us. Children started inviting their friends.
Providing a meal during classes and activities may be easier and more affordable than you think.
Many parents at our church gladly signed up to provide prepared food for a week or two throughout the year. For the Wednesday nights not covered by donations, we found take-out pizza that cost the church approximately $1 per child.
I know a church that includes a “Jesus and Cheerios” component in every Sunday School class. They invite church members to contribute bowls, spoons, Cheerios, and milk, and a volunteer manages set-up and clean-up of this simple meal.
With volunteer help in the kitchen and in planning, you can do much better both financially and nutritionally.
Many local businesses donate food to non-profit organizations for compassionate purposes. They may require a written request with specific verification information, and someone needs to commit to picking it up and storing it. But once you get on their list, you can pick up food donations at regularly set times.
Free food is not always nutritious food, at least not on its own. Much of it is baked goods like breads and pastries that are nearing their expiration, and people with limited resources are probably already eating plenty of those types of empty carbs. Could your church afford to add protein and vegetables?
You may find a business happy to donate meats and vegetables. Because these items are also usually nearing expiration, you need a church volunteer who can make quick decisions about how best to serve them right away.
Are there seniors or home groups in your church looking for new ways to serve? Invite them to feed children, and they will be glad you did.
Do you have an outreach budget? Consider feeding hungry children—localhungry children—part of your compassionate concern.
Of course, the needs of working parents and the scarcity of food at home are bigger matters than just one or two meals a week at church, and you may be considering how you can help. At the least, if you want your church to be a welcoming place for poor or working-class families, start on your own premises and in your own programs by giving bread along with the bread of life.
Elizabeth (PhD, Intercultural Education, Biola University) writes, speaks, and teaches about border crossing as a discipline for every believer and every church, especially in changing and diverse communities. She currently serves in a multiethnic homeless congregation and is ordained in The Wesleyan Church.
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