Churches Sharing More Than Loaves and FishesBy Mike Koehler
A diverse crowd packed the hall at St. Francis Episcopal Church earlier this month with a single shared mission – feed the hungry.
Almost 70 guests and presenters attended the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island’s first Feeding Ministry Summit on March 5. Running the gamut of the diocese’s 133 parishes from Brooklyn Heights to Sag Harbor, the contingent filling the North Bellmore church confirmed the need to help.
The Summit, organized by Episcopal Ministries of Long Island (EMLI), is part of the year-old organization’s charitable work. Bringing people together to tackle this issue, Executive Director Mary Beth Welsh said, was the goal of the event.
“We recognize the value in sharing our learning experiences; the parishes have a lot to learn from each other,” she said.
Most people expect families living in less affluent communities may have trouble keeping food on the table. And yet, the issue also plagues many in the region’s well-to-do neighborhoods. Mother Clare Nesmith, the priest at Christ Episcopal Church and co-founder of Nourish Babylon, confirmed 13 percent of Babylon Village school children qualify for free or reduced lunch, while Smithtown Township Food Pantry Executive Coordinator Pat Westlake added many clients hail from the well-heeled hamlet and come in spurts.
“There might be an emergency or a sickness in the family or the house may need repairs and they just can’t make it. Long Island is an expensive community and even though they’re working, it’s hard to make ends meet,” Westlake said.
The Summit itself featured presenters representing a variety of different kinds of feeding ministries, including food pantries, community meal programs, and gardens which provide produce to food pantries and meal programs.
“In this room, there is a lot of wisdom. That’s the exciting thing,” said Rev. Mark Genszler, pastor of St. Francis Episcopal Church in North Bellmore which began the “Garden at St. Francis” five years ago. The garden has since provided over 7,000 pounds of food to the Freeport Emergency Food Pantry.
Passion and perseverance were the two most important ingredients in the recipe for feeding the needy. Speakers shared how they overcame obstacles ranging from a vocal minority of opposed neighbors to infertile soil.
“Do not be afraid. You’ll find a way to keep doing it,” Nesmith said.
After the event, Mother Karen Campbell, reverend at Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor, said she attended the Summit to be better prepared for new projects her church is planning. Her East End parish is one of 18 houses of worship providing temporary shelter and food for the homeless through Maureen’s Haven. Campbell said they want to offer a free meal once a month.
By attending the Summit, Campbell gleaned valuable information from other parishes’ insights and experiences. The Sag Harbor congregation needs to build a new kitchen that will pass health department inspections and find additional financial and volunteer support in their neighborhood.
“We have homeless and elders who are eating cat food waiting for Social Security checks. East Hampton is the most food insecure town in Suffolk County,” she said, adding that 18 percent of residents worry where how they’ll find their next meal.