Nov. 10-16 is Guest Blogger Week at ngumc.org. The Conference has invited leaders of Action Ministries to write about hunger issues and how NGUMC churches can and are making a difference! They'll be posting all week and you are invited to share the messages with your own church and community. Follow along on social media by using #ngumcHungerAction.
By Drew Hooks
Over the past 25 years, many churches, businesses and volunteer organizations have partnered to provide daily meals to the homeless and working poor in Athens at Our Daily Bread Community Kitchen. Three years ago, Action Ministries Athens expanded its hunger relief efforts through our Smart Lunch, Smart Kid program, which provides sack lunches to children in need during the summer months. These programs have grown since their inception so that this year, we are projected to serve more than 80,000 meals to people in need.
The need for food is great in Athens-Clarke County. Georgia had the 5th highest rate of food insecurity in the country last year. In Athens-Clarke County alone, just over 20 percent of the total population is food insecure and more than a quarter of kids are food insecure. Additionally, Athens’ poverty rate of 39 percent is one of the highest in the country for a metropolitan area of its size. These numbers have very real, human consequences that are made evident as we see more people than ever come to the table to share a meal.
People are coming to be fed, but we also find they are coming for the community these programs build.
Research shows that community kitchens and food distribution centers provide safe places where people who are socially isolated can create community. A mother from an SLSK community said the program gave her children an opportunity to get out and play with other kids when they normally would not. Another parent said daytime gang activity in the community decreased because SLSK volunteers showed up and spent time with the kids.
Overall, parents and children are appreciative and excited about Smart Lunch, Smart Kid, not just because of the meals, but because the children have a time and place in their community when it’s safe for them to interact with their peers and positive influences from outside of the community. Similarly, Our Daily Bread offers the safe space necessary for our guests to leave behind their cares for a moment and enjoy a good meal amongst friends. It provides an opportunity for people with broken relationships to form new relationships and escape their isolation.
Not only are the guests participating in the community, the volunteers and service providers are as well. I’ve heard many SLSK volunteers exclaim that they didn’t know there were communities in Athens that experienced poverty like the communities we visit. Volunteers at Our Daily Bread are given the opportunity to meet people who are struggling with poverty and learn about their life experiences. In both of these experiences, “the poor” are given a face and a name with a story. I find it a great honor to have someone open up to me and share about their life, and this is an honor bestowed on me every time I eat at Our Daily Bread.
It’s easy for us to think about the necessity of eating, but we must not forget the necessity of social interaction. Humans are social beings, and we need to form positive relationships with others in order to feel happy and stable. If a person is in a time of crisis, they need a listening ear and an open heart, not solely a physical need being met. In participating in a meal at Our Daily Bread or Smart Lunch, Smart Kid, people are receiving more than food or a volunteer experience. They are also actively participating in the creation and sustaining of a positive community, which helps each of us to feel more whole.
Hunger Relief Coordinator
Action Ministries Athens