ELCA awards grants to support U.S. anti-hunger ministries, organizations

4/23/2014 3:00:00 PM

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- In an effort to support hunger-fighting organizations in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) awarded 401 grants totaling nearly $1 million through its ELCA World Hunger program. The annual domestic hunger grants support ELCA congregations, social ministry organizations and community-based nonprofits working to address poverty, hunger and related social justice issues.
     More than 800 million people in the world live with chronic hunger. In the United States, more than 50 million people are food insecure, which means they do not have consistent access to adequate food. In 2013, ELCA members responded to this need by contributing about $19 million to ELCA World Hunger. In addition to the domestic hunger grants, funds go toward education, advocacy and international relief and development programs.
     These funds are like “seed money in many places,” said Josselyn Bennett, director of ELCA poverty and justice ministries. “Working with our congregations, community organizations and our network of social ministry organizations, our dollars are quite often used to leverage other dollars. We’re trying to create this sense of a network of people working together in their own communities,” she said.
     Serving Up Nutrition Now for Youth is one of the hunger programs that receive ELCA funding. Hosted by Christ the King Lutheran Church in New Brighton, Minn., it provides free summer lunches for children whose families cannot afford to feed their children three meals a day. The program, started by member Marrina Kaun in 2011 as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project, “has grown by leaps and bounds over the past three years,” said Regina Kaun, Marrina’s mother. Kaun manages the program while Marrina attends college.
     During the first summer, 500 lunches were served. In 2012, the program served 2,500 meals and in 2013 more than 5,000 lunches were provided. Kaun said a Methodist congregation in the area opened a second location in 2013 and served almost 7,500 lunches. Kaun anticipates each location will serve about 7,500 in 2014. The ELCA and the United Methodist Church are full communion partners. Full communion is when two denominations develop a relationship that allows the churches to worship together, exchange clergy and share in a commitment to evangelism, witness and service in the world. 

     “The ELCA grant, along with others, is crucial to the success of the program.  We operate solely on this type of funding,” said Kaun.
 In addition to providing nutritious lunches to children in the community, Serving Up Nutrition Now for Youth provides education about healthy eating. Kaun said the meals often feature a “try me” fruit or vegetable for the participants to sample.
     “There is a fellowship that we have with the participants,” said Kaun. “The kids and often their families come to the site several times a week and develop friendships with our volunteers, who provide a real example of what it means to be a caring adult who gives back to their community.”
     “Our niche is really around supporting the work that can happen through volunteers in our congregations, who are striving to make a better life in community where they exist,” said Bennett. “So it’s not enough money to say yes we’re going to end hunger, but if we join with everybody else who has that mantra, then yes, together we can end hunger.” 
     In addition to funding organizations that provide food for immediate relief, the grants also fund programs that provide community-based development, organization and advocacy toward ending hunger and poverty. Emphasizing the link between hunger and poverty, Bennett said hunger is “most often a result of the poverty that is there (in communities). People are struggling.” 
     “We have a lot of community gardens, a lot of food pantries, ways of supporting children through after-school programs and community organizing to try to help people have a voice,” said Bennett. 
     Sometimes those voices work to help “get a street light on the corner” to keep children safe, said Bennett. “We’re trying to create this sense of a network of people working together in their own communities.” 
     Recent cuts to the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a provision in the  2014 federal farm bill, have had an impact on many of the programs funded by the ELCA domestic hunger grants. Congregations and organizations that operate food pantries have experienced longer lines and bare shelves. 
     “We get a lot of calls saying, ‘Our pantry is empty, can you help us? Can you direct us in some way?’ And, we know that the loss of these kinds of benefits has had an impact on the lives of people,” said Bennett.
     “It’s hard for people to get their heads around hungry people in America because there is so much food,” Bennett added. “But there is (hunger) in America. And certainly, domestically, we have to think about the folks who are here, who are homeless and who are suffering from mental illness and don’t have resources and places where they can be. We also have to think about children. We have all of that going on just right here among us, among all the wealth that we have. So we have to keep lifting it up for people to know that it’s happening.” 
     ELCA World Hunger works to address the root causes of poverty and hunger through a comprehensive approach of relief, education, advocacy and development. Information about ELCA World Hunger is available at www.elca.org/hunger.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God's work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

 
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Candice Hill Buchbinder
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