Twenty-six percent of students at Boyce Elementary School located in Clarke County are on free or reduced lunches. When Christ Episcopal Church, Millwood, realized there was no program to subsidize meals for those kids during the summer they decided to fill the gap. “We were doing the [food] pantry and got to thinking. This is something that isn’t happening so we decided to try it and see,” shared food pantry and volunteer coordinator, Wendy Hawken.
So in 2014, Christ Church applied for and received a $2,500 Mustard Seed Grant to start and grow the kids’ summer feeding program, an extension of their already successful food pantry. After the first year, they had money left over and decided to continue the program. Now in their second year of the ministry, they’ve provided over 1,700 lunches to almost 200 children.
“It’s always a satisfaction to just see the people, see the need for food. I don’t know. It just touches the core in me that nothing else does. I’ve never been hungry myself. I’ve had times in my life where I had to stack up the bills as to what get’s paid first but I like to feed people. What can I say? And it’s so easy for us,” said Hawken.
Christ Church has two or three volunteers every Monday and Tuesday morning from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. for the ten weeks of Clarke County summer vacation. A table in the middle of the Bishop’s Chapel is stocked with nutritious lunch fixings where those being served can shop market style. There isn’t a limit or guidelines but according to Hawken nobody takes more than they need. Food is sourced from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, the USDA, Skanks, Panera and Wegman’s. In addition, local community groups hold food drives, farmers glean from their fields and individuals donate funds.
Christ Church also provides fresh vegetables to the food ministry through their local community garden. Through another grant, they were able to install a deer fence around the garden which has about eight volunteers who tend to it. From kale to asparagus to whole beans to fresh herbs to tomatoes, the list goes on and on. “It’s amazing what they get out of this garden,” stated Hawken.
From the food pantry to the community garden to the summer feeding program, Christ Church has expanded outside its walls. “We have a lot of volunteers who don’t go to Christ Church. It’s like a community. It’s the church that is the nucleus but it’s brought a lot of people in,” said Anne McIntosh who’s been volunteering on and off for two years.
“The whole community is becoming aware. Every little bit helps. And we’re getting more and more – people reaching out,” chimed in Daphne Dunning, a member of Christ Church and food pantry volunteer.
As Hawken said, “I didn’t know anybody before doing this. I would see them on the street but that is another thing – it has broken down barriers. We know them and they know us.”
“And there have been so many joys. The people being so appreciative is just so rewarding, they need it,” shared Dunning.
The seed was planted in February 2010 in a small closet off of the church offices. The food pantry expanded to take over the entire Bishop’s Chapel and from there it grew into a garden and summer feeding program continually flourishing by feeding those who are hungry.
Hawken stated, “I think we are still in kindergarten with this program – I’m not sure where we are going to go with it. I’d love to find a partner in Berryville. On the other hand, we can just be here and see what happens.”
By: Ashley Cameron; Photo Credit: Kendall Martin