DALLAS—If economics is the “science of scarcity,” consider Joe Clifford—a pastor with an undergraduate degree in economics from Auburn University and a background in banking—a science-denier.
“God’s economy does not operate on the myth of scarcity but on the truth of abundance,” Clifford, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, told an event sponsored by Dallas Baptist Association, the Texas Hunger Initiative and other partners in the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions.
Hunger exists not due to a scarce food supply but because a flawed distribution system denies poor people access to what they need, he asserted. People of faith have a responsibility to meet the needs of the poor and hungry, he insisted.
“You can’t read the Bible without running into stories about food,” he said, citing examples ranging from God providing the Israelites manna after their exodus from Egypt to Jesus feeding the 5,000. “Feeding hungry people, according to Scripture, has always been important to God and, therefore, important to God’s people.”
In the last four decades, The Stewpot, a ministry of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Dallas, has provided 5 million meals to homeless and needy people. (http://thestewpot.org/) Thanks to the 1,500 volunteers a month who participate, meal costs have averaged just $1.75 each, Clifford said.
Four strategies to fight hunger
Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions, co-chaired by Jana Jackson of Dallas Baptist Association, presented strategies congregations can implement to fight hunger.The faith community action team of the
Two years ago, the team introduced six strategies to engage churches and other faith groups in addressing the problem of hunger.
At the June 2 event, the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions focused on four new strategies:
- Community Gardens provide fresh vegetables for families in urban areas and supply produce for food pantries. Congregations are encouraged to turn nonproductive plots of land into community gardens, developed in partnership with the individuals who benefit from what is grown.
- Congregate Meals offer balanced, nutritious meals for older adults at a senior center. The social setting allows the senior adults interaction with peers, and meal sites also may provide nutrition education classes. Churches can provide volunteers for the senior centers or sponsor a congregate meal site.
- Nourishing Neighbors is a volunteer-driven program of the North Texas Food Bank that delivers groceries to homebound senior adults and mature adults with disabilities. Participants receive at least 10 pounds of nutritious, easy-to-prepare food, including fresh fruit and vegetables, every other week. Churches can recruit volunteers to deliver groceries or interview applicants for enrollment, and they can become a distribution hub to serve seniors in locations across the 13 counties the North Texas Food Bank serves.
- Nutrition Education through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service incorporates research-based, practical lessons in basic nutrition, food preparation, food budget management and food safety in settings convenient for participants. The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program helps families with children, and Better Living for Texans is designed for adults on public assistance programs. Churches can schedule the programs for their members or serve as host sites for programs in their communities.
Six proven strategies already implemented
Jackson reported the faith community action team engaged congregations in developing 93 programs in the last two years based on the six strategies previously introduced by the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions:
- The Summer Meals Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides summertime nutrition for children and teenagers who receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year. Churches can serve as meal sites or can provide volunteers to staff a site in their community, and they can provide enrichment activities for students before or after meals.
- The Community Partner Program enlists congregations to help people use online resources to apply for and manage public benefits.
- Cooking Matters is a six-week program that teaches participants how to be smart grocery shoppers, make healthier nutritional choices and cook affordable meals. Churches can offer classes and involve members as teachers.
- Meals on Wheels delivers nutritious, freshly prepared meals to people who cannot provide for themselves due to advanced age, illness or disability. Congregations can enlist and coordinate volunteers to deliver meals.
- The Family Garden Initiative helps churches and other groups teach their neighbors—particularly in urban areas—how to grow nutritious food in small gardens in backyards or apartment patios.
- Community Distribution Partners uses a “hub-and-spokes” distribution model to increase the efficiency of food distribution in areas of greatest need. Crossroads Community Services, the urban outreach ministry of First United Methodist Church in Dallas, serves as the hub, obtaining food in bulk from the North Texas Food Bank. Other churches, food pantries and community ministries serve as the spokes of the wheel, distributing groceries to clients in their neighborhoods.