Good meals leave big smiles


Good meals leave big smiles 
An ELCA grant helps the Navajo Evangelical
Lutheran Mission in Arizona provide free meals.

At 80 years old, Annie Fortnam has a lot of spunk.

She plans weekly menus, cooks and helps direct 40 volunteers to run Annie's Community Kitchen, a meal program that serves 120 people every Wednesday at Edmonds Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Edmonds, Wash.

The kitchen is named after Annie, its founder.

"Annie is a retired nurse who is deeply committed to her community," says Robert Snyder, a member of Edmonds. He shares part of the responsibility of supervising the kitchen's volunteers. "We can't let Annie do everything by herself."

Open to all in the Edmonds community, the kitchen serves beef stroganoff, Alaskan cod, hearty soups and gourmet breads, "which is just fine with us Lutherans," says Robert. Fresh fruits and savory desserts are also part of the meal, all of which is free.

Those who come for supper, says Robert, include retired people, women and children and people who are homeless in the area. There are many in the area who do not have access to food because of the current social and economic conditions, he says.

The congregation also maintains a gleaning project, where a team of volunteers collect food at local grocery stores and restaurants. This includes food that has been pulled from store shelves because it's about to expire or the packaging is damaged. The estimated annual retail value of all the goods collected is more than $800,000.

Annie first started this kind of gleaning seven years ago at a store near her home, says Robert, adding that the effort has grown to an 80-hour work week for a group of 15 to 20 volunteers. Robert is the captain of that gleaning team.

"Volunteers make about 25 pick-ups a week. Initially the volunteers used their own vehicles, making two to three trips back and forth from a store to the church. But now we've purchased a van," he says.

And thanks to an ELCA World Hunger grant, the congregation is able to afford maintaining the van, which "loves gas," says Robert.

A significant portion of ELCA World Hunger funds are allocated to fight hunger and poverty in the United States, through a special program called ELCA Domestic Hunger Grants.

Distributed annually, these grants support hundreds of food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and community programs that address hunger and its causes.

Many of these ministries are organized by ELCA congregations and Lutheran organizations. Priority is given to people with the least resources for meeting basic human needs and to women and children living in poverty.

Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Mission, an ELCA social ministry in Rock Point, Ariz., received a 2012 grant to help open the Hozho Café, a place where the Navajo people, especially young adults, can visit and enjoy a free meal.

A critical ministry of the café will be to serve as a community center for people to access local and federal resources that will help address hunger and poverty, which is prevalent in the area. It will also provide a safe environment where education, culture and spiritual formation are valued. Navajo women will be invited to display jewelry, rugs and pottery for tourists who pass through Rock Point.

Faith Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Fort Wayne, Ind., also received a 2012 grant to support "Feed your faith and family," a weekly meal ministry designed to address hunger in its area.

According to Ed Redmon, president of the congregation, the ministry is popular and well-received by the community. Some who have come for dinner have also joined the church, says Ed.

"Faith Lutheran is well known in the southeast quadrant of Fort Wayne, an area where crime, poverty and unemployment is high. Other ELCA congregations in the quarter closed because they couldn't sustain themselves," he says.

"Faith Lutheran is standing on its own," says Ed, who is proud of the congregation's commitment to serving the community. He was personally drawn to joining the congregation a few years ago based on that commitment.

Through ELCA World Hunger, members of this church can make a difference, helping ensure that the most basic of human needs are met.

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