Recently, I have been researching and studying the link between poverty and other factors in a person’s daily living, such as literacy and food insecurity. We are always prayerfully considering what is the most effective way to address these issues through the ministry center, and as we approach a month of emphasis on World Hunger, it seems appropriate to share my thoughts with you.
Food insecurity is that element of daily existence that evokes worry about the source of one’s next meal. According to “Feeding America”, the organization under whose umbrella our Montgomery Area Food Bank exists, 49 million people in the United States experience food insecurity on a daily basis, and 15 million of those people are children. These numbers reflect a 20% increase since the year 2000. 
The church has sought to reach out to those in need through various ministries, including food pantries, but government has also attempted to address the hunger issue. In the 1960’s, President Lyndon Johnson proposed “The Great Society”, a program to eradicate poverty. This was meant to be a boost, or a temporary program to assist those needing to emerge out of impoverished lifestyles. By the 1990’s, a level of dependency on these governmental programs had become apparent, and President Bill Clinton and in Alabama, Governor Fob James introduced Welfare Reform. Again, this was not intended to be long term. However, today, poverty levels are on the increase and food insecurity, as stated earlier, worse than ever. And food pantries like Forest Park Ministry Center are continually seeking donations to keep the shelves stocked.
At Forest Park Ministry Center, we see several circumstances that feed this trend. Yes, there are those who have learned a life of dependency. We see guests who are living in the 4th and 5th generation of poverty. Their lack of resources goes far beyond the financial means needed for food. There is a lack of emotional resources that encourage us to persevere and pull ourselves out of tight circumstances. At the center, we encourage guests to consider alternative ideas like the purchase of meats on sale, small gardens, food box orders like One Harvest Ministries, or using other protein source foods instead of meat, in addition to visiting the food pantry.
Another trend is not just unemployment – but underemployment. More often, employers are cutting workers’ hours in order to save money and to keep their businesses afloat. Employees are hesitant to quit such jobs because unemployment is still so rampant. Now we have guests who have to make choices between medicine and food, or rent and food. EBT (food stamps) do not always adequately provide an entire month’s food, and never cover other household needs such as hygiene and cleaning purchases. I cannot adequately describe to you the sorrow and fear in a mother’s eyes when she visits the center for food assistance, stating that she just cannot bear to face her children when they arrive home after school hungry, but there is no food in the house for them.
This summer, the food pantry at Forest Park Ministry Center became woefully scant, yet each month as the year progressed, more and more families visited the center in search of food. Several guests commented that this food pantry was the only place where they were able to receive fresh produce and frozen meats. This has been a blessing to provide, helped by the gardens of donors, a local church, and a garden on the ministry center property, supplementing the produce obtained at the food bank. We continue to need all kinds of food donated!
Often, donors ask about the food that we obtain from the Montgomery Area Food Bank. There is a maintenance fee of $.18 per pound assessed on most of the food procured there. This is a phenomenally good “buy”, and many may wonder why we depend on church donations in addition to the food bank. The answer is threefold: 1. ) The variety of food available through the food bank is wholly dependent on the donations made to them. For example, there might be shelves and shelves of snack cakes, but no cans of green vegetables; 2.) Although the funds budgeted for the food bank cover some canned goods, much of the funds are used to obtain fresh and frozen foods; and 3.) There is a powerful blessing for the donor who gives time and energy to select food for those in need.
So, if you are gardening this fall, consider donating excess produce to the center. When you shop for groceries, consider purchasing some extra cans, some peanut butter, or some produce for the center. When your church holds a food drive, give generously. Together, we can meet the needs of the hungry in our community, and we pledge to continue to encourage and educate our guests, the grateful recipients of your generosity.