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New partnership with Every Meal to feed our children in Worthington

Program to begin in September.

072220.O.DG.PASTORCOLUMN
McCormick
We are part of The Trust Project.

WORTHINGTON — When I attended my first ministerial meeting in Worthington back in 2016 (when I started my call at First Lutheran), some school counselors and social workers from Prairie Elementary came to the gathering. They shared a concern that the students did not have enough food on the weekends.

This conversation led to the Better Together food packing events in 2017 and 2019. The food from these events helped us to launch our Sharing Seeds program, which provided food for Prairie Elementary students once a month. Over time, our efforts expanded to providing such food to students at Prairie, Worthington Middle School, Worthington High School, the Area Learning Center, Head Start, and St. Mary’s.

During the pandemic, we “pivoted” to provide food in church entryways when schools were not in session. Likewise, during this crucial time, we found that many families who were ill or quarantined and isolating were in need of food. Volunteers and school staff packaged meal boxes that were delivered to homes of students.

With the support of Fareway, we provided gift cards to families to assist them with purchasing fresh foods. With a grant from the Presbyterian Church, we were able to provide food gift cards to families who were struggling with bills and expenses related to the pandemic.

It has been awe-inspiring to watch this program continue to serve our community and address the changing realities around us. During the final months of the 2021-22 school year, we were regularly serving 700-900 students a month.

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I am so thankful for the many volunteers, churches and organizations who helped with administration for this program, helped bundle food, sorted it into school groupings, delivered the food, gathered delivery totes afterwards and donated financially to this cause.

This being said, many of us Sharing Seeds volunteers noted some unresolved challenges with our existing model. The Worthington community serves an immensely diverse population. Each cultural group has their own dietary restrictions and preferences. Trying to send home culturally-specific food for all the students we serve was too challenging for our school staff to manage.

Families often expressed wanting or needing more food, but younger students could not carry significant amounts of food. Likewise, in order to be able to afford the amount of food we provided each month, an immense amount of grant writing and fundraising was required. Furthermore, distributing the food to so many students has become challenging for school staff, as well.

For these reasons and others, we kept looking for new ways to serve our students together. We became connected with Every Meal (everymeal.org), a Minnesota-based non-profit with a mission to fight child hunger through community and school partnerships. They currently serve children and families in more than 500 sites across Minnesota, and have expressed eagerness and willingness to expand their work to our area.

They provide five food bag types containing 4-5 pounds of shelf-stable food that is nutritious, delicious and relevant to different cultural and situation needs. (East African, Latino, Southeast Asian, general, and ready-to-eat).

Starting in September, we will begin distributing Every Meal food bags. That is, once a month, they will deliver a semi truck full of pallets of food for our community. Most of the food bags will be dropped off at school sites and some will be stored at church facilities. Churches will serve as sponsors, providing funding and volunteers for specific schools. Head Start will distribute their meals via their programming (home visitors, etc.), and the Area Learning Center and high school will allow students to pick up their own food bags at a central location in the school.

Since the food is packed into bags by Every Meal, we will no longer have that responsibility. However, every week volunteers will be needed to distribute food bags at Prairie Elementary, Worthington Intermediate, St. Mary’s, and Worthington Middle schools. Volunteers will help bring food bags to the appropriate classrooms, where the teachers will then place them in the participating student’s backpacks.

How can you help? We are looking for volunteers to help with the Every Meal effort. In particular, we are looking for churches, organizations and individuals to serve as sponsors for schools, offering support in gathering registrations at back-to-school events, assistance in distributing food to classrooms (approximately three volunteers are needed per week for the three schools receiving classroom distributions), and financial support.

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Sponsors will be expected to do some fundraising for their designated school, but we are fortunate to access the financial stability and support of the greater Every Meal organization. Please contact Brooke Summers at bsummers@everymeal.org for more information about how to get involved.

Those who would like to continue to donate to the Sharing Seeds line item at First Lutheran Church may continue to do so and we will allocate the funds accordingly. We will seek to support the work of Every Meal, respond to identified needs from school counselors and provide gift cards for students as funds allow.

Likewise, we encourage people to give to Every Meal so their continued work on behalf of so many children may remain possible. You can send a check directly to Every Meal at: Every Meal, 2723 Patton Rd., Roseville, MN 55113 or give online at everymeal.org/give.

In our initial conversations with Every Meal, President Rob Williams said, “Jesus said that feeding people was important, and I take him at his word.”

I found that to be apt summary for so many of our teachings in the church. Indeed, feeding people, especially children, is unequivocally part of our mission as Christ followers. We look forward to this next stage in our efforts to ensure all of the children and youths in our community have the necessary food they need to thrive and we share Christ’s love with them.

Rev. Jeanette McCormick is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Worthington and Grace Lutheran Church in rural Round Lake.

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