Members of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Kensington, Maryland, are making a bold promise to their neighbors: that no one in their area will go hungry, an effort they're calling a "hunger-free ZIP code."
Meg Baker: "She wasn't there last Thursday."
Meg Baker, St. Paul's United Methodist Church: "This program has brought a lot of surprises and unexpected joy. We've, over time, developed a rapport."
When St. Paul's United Methodist Church promised to create a "hunger-free ZIP code" in Kensington, Maryland, members didn't realize what a blessing it would be.
Tomashawn Lewis-Johnson: "My car was having the issues..."
Creating a food distribution system gave congregants like Meg Baker a new way to connect with neighbors like Tomashawn Lewis Johnson who appreciates the help feeding her family of nine.
Tomashawn Lewis-Johnson, Hunger-Free Zone client: "My relationship with Meg Baker I would definitely say she's my friend. Many times, I've called her my angel. She'll send a text and just say, 'Hi. I'm thinking about you and praying for you.'"
The Rev. Adam Snell: "My name's Adam."
In 2010, Pastor Adam Snell felt God calling him to reach out to the church's neighbors and feed them.
The Rev. Adam Snell: "Morning. Good morning."
Now, St Paul's delivers a three-day supply of food to anyone who calls, no questions asked. The ministry began with "smart sacks" to give elementary school children food to take home for the weekend, and became a monthly food pantry, called "Communion Collect."
The Rev. Adam Snell: "Give us this day our daily bread&ellipsis;"
The Rev. Adam Snell, St. Paul's United Methodist Church: "During communion, we get fed in body and soul. Is there a way for us to take communion and transform that into food for the community? So, when our parishioners go to the Safeway and pick up groceries for their own table, we encourage them to pick up a bag for the hungry."
Debra McCurry, St. Paul's United Methodist Church: "I think this is one of the most gratifying things I've ever done. It's unified so many of us here, we enjoy it."
Members have taken on personal missions, too, like purchasing fresh produce and delivering baked goods that would have been discarded.
Stewart Longsworth, St. Paul's United Methodist Church: "This bread comes from stores, restaurants, whatever, that have excess food material that they would otherwise throw away, so that we can eliminate food waste within the county."
Brian Ruberry: "Glad you're inside tonight."
Currently, the church opens its doors to about 45 families. "Personal shoppers" help them make selections. Church member Evan Gaalswyk, a 12-year-old volunteer, is fluent in Spanish.
Evan Gaalswyk, St. Paul's United Methodist Church: "They usually have no idea when I walk in, they're looking at me like, 'This is the guy that supposed to be translating?' One lady from Columbia came in and she talked about her family history and where she was from and her kids and her grandkids, and it was a great experience."
(Volunteer) "Zucchini! You like zucchini?"
Stella Mitchell, St. Paul's United Methodist Church: "The people I just helped, it was a mom and a young boy who is in third grade. We talked a lot about what kind of foods he likes or we talked about his favorite movie, which is 'Turbo.'"
(Volunteer) "Really, that's so cool!"
Stella Mitchell: "I like to talk to them and know about their lives.
Several families can't drive to the church, so volunteers take their groceries to them. Shari Connor and her daughter Gabi always deliver to Maria's family&ellipsis;.grabbing special treats like Pop-Tarts for her four-year-old twin girls.
Shari Connor, St. Paul's United Methodist Church: "The first time we came to the door, it took them a long time to turn on the light and open the door because they didn't know who we were."
Shari Connor: "Now, they know we're coming and they open the door and they bring their daughters to the door. So, I do feel there's some sort of relationship that has built up. We do feel a big loyalty to them, especially Gabi. She always wants to make sure we get to the church right when the pantry doors open so we can get the best stuff."
Maria came from Honduras and shares her home with five other families. Her husband works full-time as a custodian at night making minimum wage.
Maria, Michele Chirieleison (Spanish, then): "She says with what he makes, it's hard to cover everything.
Maria, Michele Chirieleison (Spanish, then:) "She says sometimes it does happen that there's no food in the house."
The Rev. Adam Snell: "From the very beginning, it's been all about relationship. We can write checks. And, that's a gift. That's part of what God has called us to do&ellipsis;"
(Nat sound) "You're ready to go, huh?"
The Rev. Adam Snell: "But we're not really making friends when we write a check; but when people come to us, when we go to their homes, all of a sudden, we know their names and we know their story and we embrace their kids. These become our neighbors in the truest sense of the word."
Some of the families who receive food come to the church to volunteer. Others attend the church's community breakfasts, Christmas parties or vacation Bible school. Learn more or support this ministry by contacting Brian Ruberry, Justice and Compassion Ministry team leader, at (240) 506-6323 or call the St. Paul United Methodist Church office at (301)933-7933, or visit the website.
Posted on November 26, 2013