Mobile Soup Kitchen - A Vehicle for Change

Mobile Soup Kitchen - A Vehicle for Change

An ambitious parish project, with significant backing from Episcopal Ministries of Long Island, is launching in Greenpoint to feed the hungry, provide counseling on social services and bridge the gap between rich and poor neighbors in this gentrifying neighborhood.

The focal point of the project is a vehicle, one that has become an unremarkable, ubiquitous sight on the streets of New York City: a food truck.

But the Rev. John Merz of the Church of the Ascension is hoping to achieve something much larger than meals on wheels, turning the church’s soup kitchen ministry into a bustling mobile outreach center.

“We’re building a coalition essentially of a hundred community organizations to support a mobile soup kitchen and social service office that’s a vehicle for community organization and mobilization,” he said. “It’s a way of building bridges in a community that’s become increasingly atomized.”

The food truck, which could arrive in Brooklyn later this month, will be able to serve up to 800 pre-cooked meals a day. It also will be equipped with solar panels on the roof, a TV screen and Wi-Fi inside and a built-in social service office that will be used by various coalition partners to help the people who stop by for breakfast or lunch at various sites in North Brooklyn.

The effort, dubbed North Brooklyn Coalition of Neighbors Helping Neighbors, has received strong support from the Diocese of Long Island and Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, who has challenged Episcopalians in parishes across the diocese to expand their ministries beyond the walls of churches and into the community.

The diocese also has offered unprecedented financial support. Its Episcopal Ministries is a prominent partner in the project after contributing $160,000 to cover half the cost of the truck.

“We’d never invested this much money into a project before,” said Mary Beth Welsh, executive director of Episcopal Ministries. Most of its grants to congregations are under $15,000. “This is in a whole different realm.”

Welsh said one of the main reasons the board got behind the idea was because Merz was able to show it truly was a coalition effort, making part of its mission to encourage greater involvement of congregations and the community.

Welsh said that Merz’s timing was perfect, because he reached out for assistance in fall 2015 when the board of Episcopal Ministries was planning for the upcoming year and had just allocated funding to support unique ministries like this that would benefit from larger investments.

It is already generating excitement from a diverse array of partners, from people who just want to hop onto the truck and serve food to housing advocates and immigration lawyers who see an opportunity to connect with people who can use their help.

More partnerships are in the works, and Episcopal Ministries will continue to offer guidance for the project and will be looking for ways to showcase the coalition’s work, as well as its signature vehicle. When this food truck rolls up to the curb, the community will be served up a real-world example of what the diocese’s efforts at outreach can yield.

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