Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Loaves and Fishes New Haven

How to Feed a Multitude (During a Pandemic)
By Jonathan Lee

As the Executive Director of Loaves & Fishes New Haven, the largest food pantry in the New Haven, Connecticut area, James Cramer has a unique relationship with food. On a given Saturday, you can usually find James running around as he coordinates forty to fifty volunteers moving approximately 10,000 pounds of fresh produce, canned goods, and other donated food to get ready for their weekly food deliveries or grocery pickup events.

When he first arrived at Loaves & Fishes New Haven after receiving his Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, the organization was only serving about 280 to 300 families per week. With only one other employee to help with the week-to-week logistics, James had to lean on a network of dependable volunteers to manage and grow this program. Things changed when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and the number of people in the city needing food services ballooned drastically. By the summer of 2020, what started as an operation feeding 300 families once a week was now delivering prepackaged bags to 700 families, and welcoming another 500 to its usual grocery pickup sessions. 

Loaves and Fishes New Haven was not able to meet this increased need alone. When the pandemic started,” James recalls, we said, Lets do this. Lets lean in and jump with both feet first.So we created a delivery program from scratch with three other organizations that was reaching 1,200 families a week.”

Rather than haphazardly tackling problems as they appeared, the team of organizations focused on their strengths to make the most impact on their community. My big focus has been on partnership and figuring out who is really good at what. We partnered with the United Way for example. They found all the drivers, and we found all the food: a perfect marriage. Those are the things weve been embarking on more and more this past year.” 

Before the pandemic, Loaves and Fishes New Haven did not have the extensive network of partnerships it does now. While they were partnering with service providers who used their space, the organizations once-a-week pick-up model meant they werent engaging with specific populations. But as the pandemic put more limitations on peoples ability to get food, James began getting calls and reaching out to others to help address those growing needs. Loaves and Fishes New Haven now works with the Office of Veterans Affairs, Warren Street Deliveries, and the New Haven Board of Alders to get food out to specific populations of the New Haven community which they did not previously have access to. Its like the stepping out in faith,” James says. Were letting the work lead and the money to follow. If someone comes to us, were going to say yesand well figure out how to say yesand the community will support us in saying yesto them. Every time weve said yesto somebody, theres been a donor who said, I want to say yes to that too.Thats been empowering in terms of knowing how much folks can support us.”

With the support and empowerment of his community, James can focus on doing whats important: finding food. Im really good at getting food and getting people to pack that food. Its kind of hodgepodge, but thats the fun part for me. Its a big puzzle!” And there are certainly a lot of pieces that James needs to track. Loaves and Fishes New Haven receives food through relationships with local producers, grocery stores and universities, and also buys food from distributors or food banks using federal subsidies and grant money.

Having access to all these different food streams, Loaves and Fishes does their best to source good, fresh food for their families. We keep a pretty close finger to the pulse of what folks want to eat. We really try to mirror what you and I would get a bag of groceries for. There will be canned goods, some rice and pasta, some meat, but also lots of fresh fruits and vegetables”

Working in such close proximity with different food providers and distributers has given James a unique look into our food system. The more Ive worked there, the more I realized how complicated it is,” James says. The way food trickles down is pretty inefficient. Were paying farmers to plant things that there wouldnt be a market for without the federal subsidy program, and then moving that food from food banks to food pantries and then people take it out.”

This complicated pathway from field to plate isnt just inefficient, but also has environmental repercussions given how much greenhouse gases are emitted as the food is in transit. James is also trying to tackle food stigma, and hopes to break down assumptions about food by encouraging volunteers to take untaken food at the end of a work day. The other end of radical hospitality is not just giving people everything, but also taking what youre willing to give them,” James explains. If youre not willing to be a part of that, youre not in community with them. Youre signaling youre on a different level. Its just food. God created that food for us to enjoy. Food is food”

Whats one piece of advice James has for anyone who wants to work with a food pantry? Talk to them about their specific needs,” James says. He explains that while canned food drives do have a place, those events only add to the systems inefficiencies. A well-run food pantry has much more purchasing power than you or I, and so donating money directly to the food pantry will have a more long-lasting effect than donating food. Build relationships with organizations that you trust and are transparent with their money,” James recommends. If you find someone you can trust, you are good to go.”

Jonathan Lee
is a second year Master of Divinity student at Yale Divinity School. He is currently serving as Presbyterians for Earth Cares Programming and Learning Fellow.

Injustices and Ecological Deficiencies of Industrial Agriculture

God’s Green (and Brown) Revolution
by Jenny Holmes

“The soil is the great connector of our lives, the source and destination of all.” —Wendell Berry 

Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. NIV. 

“As part of the natural functions and ecosystem services provide by soils, a healthy soil stores more carbon than that stored in the atmosphere and vegetation.” —Recarbonization of Global Soils – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 

As the timeline to prevent the worst impacts of climate change shortens, many questionable “solutions” are being offered that potentially deepen social inequities and erode cultures and biodiversity. How can God’s shalom be embodied in the solutions for climate change? Or is the situation so dire that should we just be concerned with cutting carbon as fast as possible no matter how we get there? What questions should Christians seeking to be faithful to God’s shalom be asking about proposed solutions? 

Billionaire “philanthrocapitalist” Bill Gates, who recently released “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” is one of the most visible promoters of technological solutions to climate mitigation and adaptation, such as carbon capture and storage, and a more climate resilient agriculture. To the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, climate resilient agriculture may be more efficient but depends heavily on fossil-fuel-based fertilizer and genetic engineering. Gates’s technological and capitalistic mindset clearly dominate the Foundation’s approach to climate change. This is not to say that technology and capitalism cannot be useful in finding and implementing climate solutions. Obviously, they must be engaged. However, their dominance blinds us to the opportunity to enhance the flourishing of humans and nature through climate solutions that are more inclusive and equitable. 

Not everyone is buying into Gates programs and are proposing other ways forward. The interfaith Southern Africa Faith CommunitiesEnvironment Institute said to the Gates Foundation in a recent letter: 

"We urge the Gates Foundation to stop pushing a green 'revolution' that imposes technologies and seeds that are controlled by companies with vested interests. Rather, it should be looking at and learning from small-scale farmers from around the world who are working to build alternative food systems that are socially just and ecologically sustainable.” 

Widespread hunger has laid bare the failure of the profit-driven food and agriculture system during the COVID-19 crisis inspired the group’s response. 

Here in the US the COVID-19 crisis has also laid bare the injustices and the ecological deficiencies of industrial agriculture. Front-line agricultural workers were among the first and the worst hit by the pandemic. There is growing awareness of the role that soil plays in the climate crisis, and the value of regenerative agriculture that maximizes the soil even by agriculture giants like General Mills. With industrial food supply chains affected and concerns for food safety, the interest in local sources of food, such as community supported agriculture, skyrocketed at the beginning to the pandemic. Whether this trend continues remains to be seen. 

In the Punjab area of India, where the Green Revolution took root in the 1950s, growing inequities faced by small farmers have brought them to protest in the street. Aniket Aga said in Scientific America “Farmer protests in India are writing the Green Revolution’s obituary…It is evident that the new problems of industrial agriculture have added to the old problems of hunger and malnutrition.” 

Soil is where we come from according to scripture and science, and where we return. Soil health is basic to the health of all life, specially in a warming world. Land degradation greatly reduces the ability of soils to maintain and capture carbon. We have much to learn about the complex living soil. Humility and humus are required to flourish as humans as a partner in nourishing God’s shalom in climate solutions. God is calling us to a revolution in our relationship with each other and earth that is both green and brown. 

Jenny  Holmes lives in Portland, Oregon is a former Moderator for Presbyterians for Earth Care. She serves as the Washington Oregon Field Organizer for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance organizing people to protect 8.4 million acres of wilderness in Utah that will help the US meet 1.5 percent of its goal to protect 30 percent of lands and water by 2030 for the climate and biodiversity. She has done faith-based environmental organizing for over 30 years and serves on the Earth Care Team of First Presbyterian Church. Gardening and local food nourish her, body, mind and soul. 

References: January 24, 2021, Aniket Aga. 

Food Justice Ministry at Presbyterian Church of Burlington

Food-Centered Mission
By Eric Diekhans

Like much of New England, the land surrounding Burlington, Massachusetts, located fifteen miles north of Boston, was once dotted with farms. But today, most produce in this relatively affluent community is factory farmed and comes from hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

The Presbyterian Church of Burlington has a mission to reconnect consumers of all income levels with God’s nutritious abundance.

The church has a diverse congregation of about 100 members who come from as far as forty miles away. Membership includes people from Africa and Europe, as well as native New Englanders.

“We’re more of a regional church,” says Rev. Trina Portillio, Presbyterian Church of Burlington’s pastor. “That’s partly a function of being Presbyterian in New England.”

The church’s food justice ministry began with helping serve hot meals at The Dwelling Place in Woburn MA, As a Matthew 25 Church, and a Hunger Action Congregation of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Church of Burlington extends its mission reach deep into the community. 

“We’ve had food justice ministries pretty much as long as the church has been around,” says Jane McIninch a ruling Elder, and coordinator of the church’s Community Supported Agriculture pickup site, as well as the People Helping People Burlington Food Pantry.

“Our former pastor was part of the group that started an organization in town called People Helping People,” says Jane. “It brought together three ministries, one of which is the food pantry in town.”

“The church was also one of the initial supporters of the Boston Food Justice Young Adult Volunteer Program,” adds Rev. Portillio. The young adult volunteers were challenged to eat only locally sourced food for half the year. For the other half, they lived on a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) budget.

In 2010, Presbyterian Church of Burlington became a pickup site for Farmer Dave’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in Dracut, MA.

In the CSA model, consumers buy a share of a local, usually organic farm’s crops. In exchange for taking on some of the financial risks of farming, families receive a variety of delicious, fresh, nutritious vegetables, usually once a week.

Farmer Dave’s is unusual because it provides vegetables year-round thanks to their extensive greenhouses. Consumers can also purchase a fruit share and even a home-baked goods share. Presbyterian Church of Burlington also hosts a meat share from Lilac Hedge Farm in Jefferson, MA.

Through Farmer Dave’s and other local farms, the Burlington Food Pantry also receives fresh vegetables.“it's a growing emphasis for a lot of pantries,” says Jane McIninch. “There’s been a shift in attitude that it's not just about the quantity of food, it’s also about the quality. As a community, we are starting to be educated about the quality of the nutrients that we take in. We have a goal at the Pantry that thirty percent of the food we give out should be fresh fruits and vegetables.”

“I think it’s important food be locally sourced whenever possible,” says MaryLou Lynn, a Session member and a volunteer at the CSA pickup site. “it's better for the environment, i’s important for communities to have local food available, it tastes better, and it's part of stewardship to be participating in local food efforts.”

Before the pandemic, pickup day was a time of fellowship and education at Presbyterian Church of Burlington. Two volunteers from the church were always there to help out.

“The opportunities for socializing and learning added so much to the experience,” says Jane. “As volunteers, we were always being asked to identify vegetables and help people understand what they can do with them, because a lot of what we get from the farm was unfamiliar to many people.”

While COVID restrictions have necessitated loading the vegetables directly into shareholders’ trunks, everyone hopes to resume normal activities in 2021.

Whatever this year holds in store, there will be plenty of fresh vegetables in the mix.

Eric Diekhans
is editor of Earth News, a fiction writer, a video producer for the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries, and a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago. His family enjoys fresh vegetables each summer from Angelic Organics CSA in Rockford, IL.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

PEC is Hiring!

Coordinator for Presbyterians for Earth Care 
Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) invites individuals and congregations to participate in the growing earth care movement within the PC(USA). PEC is a national eco-justice network that cares for God’s creation by connecting, equipping, and inspiring Presbyterians to make creation care a central concern of the church. We are looking for a new paid, part-time coordinator to help in our work.  We are open to creative job sharing.
Job Description
The PEC Coordinator will report to the PEC Moderator and work with the Presbyterians for Earth Care Executive Committee to provide administrative support on specific tasks, including but not limited to the following:
  • Enhance communication and publicity of PEC through printed and electronic materials and social networking. Coordinate printing and mailings, send e-mails, and maintain and update the PEC website.
  • Assist membership development and maintenance. Receive membership forms and donation amounts and maintain a database of member contact information and giving history. Prepare lists of members and donation history as requested. Communicate with membership and respond to requests in a timely manner, referring to regional representatives and committee chairs as appropriate.
  • Assist officers and committee chairs in projects, commitments and general work, as needed.
  • Help prepare materials for the Annual Meeting and PEC booth such as the annual report and update the PEC brochure as needed.
  • Promote/coordinate national and regional gatherings and conferences, both Presbyterian and Ecumenical.
  • Network with PC(USA) offices and Presbyterian and ecumenical groups to expand the mission and ministry of PEC into new realms.
  • Assist the Moderator in setting agenda for meetings, and maintain files of Steering Committee minutes, Steering Committee member contact information and terms, and general work in a web-based file hosting service, such as DropBox.
  • Record minutes of PEC meetings and conference calls, when requested.
  • Travel to and staff the annual steering committee planning retreat and the biennial PEC national conference (odd years). Expenses covered by PEC.
The PEC Coordinator will have an interest in caring for God’s earth and knowledge of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The Coordinator will be a self-starter with excellent follow-through, able to work independently as well as collaboratively. Desired attributes include a calm and professional demeanor, good verbal and written communication skills, good time management and a history of meeting deadlines.  Proficiency in Microsoft Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, Publisher and website-related software desired.
Work is up to 20 hours a week, annual pay is up to $28,000 and work is done at home.

Please send resume to     Deadline:  May 3, 2021.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Recommit to Earth Care on Earth Day

 Dear Friends of Presbyterians for Earth Care,

As we approach Earth Day next Thursday, April 22, we leave winter behind, and - we hope - the pandemic that has dominated every aspect of our lives for over a year. Signs of new hope in our world include a new administration and the appointment of persons of color to cabinet positions. We have arrived at this moment by working together. Now we ask you to renew your membership and support of our work precisely because we are indeed stronger together. If you are not yet a member of Presbyterians for Earth Care, you can add your voice to ours TODAY.

In the past year, PEC has:

  • strengthened existing partnerships and formed new ones, including with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
  • continued to join our voices with those of Fossil Free PC(USA) supporters in a call on the Board of Pensions to divest from fossil fuels.
  • worked to mitigate a changing climate by working with the Presbyterian Hunger Program to establish a tree fund so Presbyterians can offset carbon impacts resulting from our travel.
Your financial gifts in 2020 made it possible for: 
  • Jonathan Lee, a student at Yale Divinity School, to serve as PEC’s 2020-21 Programming and Learning Fellow. 
  • PEC’s inspirational Advent and Lenten devotional series, coordinated, edited and laid out by Jonathan Lee.
  • a virtual 25th anniversary celebration.
  • monthly Greening Your Presbytery Zoom meetings where attendees learn to have a greater impact on earth care in churches by working though their presbyteries.

Like many churches and organizations, Presbyterians for Earth Care engages with the intersectional issues of this time through an ongoing, intentional process of action and reflection. Our strength individually and organizationally is in our diversity. Each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). 
Please prayerfully renew your commitment as a member of PEC or consider becoming a member today.You may also print the form and mail a check to PEC Treasurer, 501 Valley Drive, Durham, NC 27704 by Earth Day, April 22. Thank you as always for your support of our ministry and mission.
Yours in caring for the Earth and for one another,
Dennis Testerman, PEC Moderator

Friday, April 2, 2021

To Wonder and Wander

Devotional for Easter Sunday

When he was at the table with them, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us? 

Luke 13:30-32

Photo by David Kepley

I am often curious as to how much the Christian capacity to generously share is related to the trust in a recognition that God is the provider of all things. God is, after all, the source of supply. As people of Grace, we must come close to God and neighbor in love to encounter the power of collective compassion in order to counter the ever-present temptation to the broken systems of domination and fear. 

We find ourselves Lent after Lent straining towards the beauty and joy of Easter knowing that spiritually we must first sojourn through the emotional and psychological rocky road of Holy Week. If we are to truly appreciate the glory of the New Life of The Risen Jesus, we must open our hearts and our imaginations to practice living in the now and the not yet. 

Both literally and figuratively, we must trust the seed-planting processing. The work to rid the world of food deserts and the work to hold powers and principalities systemically accountable for the immoral dumping of toxic waste or poisoning drinking water requires the kind of faith that with open eyes and hearts to burn with the truth is shared. It is the kind of imperfect faith that Cleopas and another follower of Jesus had that was willing to invite the stranger on the road in and share a conversation, a meal, a hope, or a dream. 

Indeed, to care for this gift of the Earth faithfully, we will have to expand our conversation partners and be open to new insights when we are most dejected. We will need to make more time in our actual lives to share our food, our shelter, or our resources of all sorts with those we discover on the road, even when we are heartbroken or worried that things have been destroyed past the point of no return. 

As people on a faith journey to love God and tend tenderly to God’s beautiful creation, we will undoubtedly find ourselves dismayed and disoriented. While we normally think of this scripture in the Post-Lent and Post-Easter Season, may the story of Cleopas and the unknown follower of Jesus on their way to Emmaus be an invitation on this Easter Sunday to wonder and wander, to rest and refresh, to break open scripture and break bread with our fellow sojourners in a sharing of wisdom and resources. 

Who might God be calling you to connect with today? Will you make that time? Christ Jesus just might show up in unexpected and unimaginable ways.

Gracious God, we give you praise for who you are. We thank you for your presence which set our hearts ablaze and never leaves us alone. Empower us to be the Body of Christ together while we are yet full of questions and curiosities about the care of your world. In the name of the Our Creator, Liberator, and Sustainer, we pray. Amen

Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis
graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary and serves as the pastor of Meadowlake Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of Charlotte. As an enneagram 2, she is a generous and gifted encourager, teacher, and preacher, and she is passionate about equity and anti-oppression work in the Church and beyond.