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USDA offers funding, other resources for church-based feeding ministries

April 13, 2011

While the Jubilee Ministry grants available this year for congregations or other ministries working on food and nutrition projects were quite small, other agencies can provide substantial grant money or other assistance. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in particular, is anxious to work with faith-based organizations seeking to create or expand programs to help feed the hungry.

 

“People think the USDA must be just helping farmers, but it’s much broader than that,” said Max Finberg, director of the USDA’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “The USDA helps people every day in every way, and that’s not an exaggeration.”

 

Last November, First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move! Faith and Communities, challenging congregations and neighborhood organizations to, among other things,  plant 10,000 gardens or host farmers markets, and to host 1,000 new summer feeding programs for children. The USDA has put together a Let’s Move Faith and Communities Toolkit that lists many national foundations and non-profit groups who have funding and technical assistance available for projects that increase access to healthy, affordable food.

 

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is another USDA effort to better connect consumers to their local producers, and the KYFS website provides a list of the major loan and grant programs available through the department to support community gardening projects.

 

One stream of resources that many Jubilee Ministries may not know they can tap into is the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. SNAP helps low-income families buy the food they need for good health, and faith-based groups can play a critical role in helping more people learn about the program.

 

Congregations or Jubilee Ministries could form outreach groups and train staff or volunteers to help clients who come to a food pantry or feeding program learn how to apply for SNAP. It could be as simple as dropping information leaflets in the grocery bags clients pick up, or as ambitious as training volunteers to serve as “navigators” to actually walk clients through the application process. “You’re taking the next step of connecting folks with the benefits they may be eligible for, an average of $133 a month,” Finberg said. “So you get a much bigger bang for your buck than just giving them a bag of groceries.”

 

The Summer Food Service Program is another ideal way for churches or other ministries to tap into federal money to feed the hungry. “During the school year, we provide funding for school lunch and breakfast programs that feed 23 million kids,” Finberg said. “But only about 3 million kids get summer meals because school is out. The program we have is in desperate need of community partners where kids might be hanging out for summer.”

 

The USDA has information packets geared to help faith-based ministries set up such programs and get reimbursed for meals served to children during summer. There are also upcoming one-hour webinars for faith-based organizations considering participating in the program. “It’s one hour of a congregation’s time to learn a little more about the summer feeding program and whether it would be a good fit for the organization,” Finberg said.

 

“I urge Jubilee Ministries and parishes to explore all these options, and look for new and creative ways to fund these vital food ministries, which are so increasingly important to the most vulnerable in our community,” said Chris Johnson, program officer for Social and Economic Justice for the church. “Our resources as a church are limited, but I hope that Episcopalians will be motivated to take the next step, to go beyond what they’ve done in the past, to challenge themselves to do more. We are only limited by our expectations of ourselves. I encourage all Jubilee Ministries to think big, think outside the box.”

 

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