Houses of worship host free meals for food pantry patrons

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When Rabbi Barbara Symons of Temple David in Monroeville and her family of five decided to take the food stamp challenge in December 2012, the experience was so revealing it spawned an idea for a new project to help feed the hungry.

“All five of us kept track of how much we spent on food, including school meals and snacks, to stay within the food stamp guidelines for a family of five of $31.50 per person each week," Rabbi Symons said. "It was difficult to live within our budget because we keep kosher, so we ate little meat. Instead of chicken and fish, we ate peanut butter and eggs, lots of eggs. It made us realize that anyone on a special diet —- lactose-intolerant or gluten-free — would have quite a challenge."

Rabbi Symons shared her family’s experiences with her congregation at Temple David. She related that her family had to think through what food they should buy, which was time-consuming. She also mentioned that food stamp recipients probably had to forgo the higher cost of buying fresh fruits and vegetables and live on a blander diet.

"My family and I had the luxury of knowing that, at the end of the week, we’d be able to get back into our normal eating pattern," she said.

Realizing that some on lower incomes were making end-of-month decisions about whether to spend their remaining money on food or medications, she thought that a home-cooked meal would be a boon to many. As president of the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium, she proposed that members of the ministerium houses of worship host a free end-of-month meal on a rotating basis.

The ministerium's mission is to promote fellowship among the religious leaders of the Monroeville area; to promote respect, understanding and cooperation among people of all faiths; and to promote goodwill, compassion and justice.

Before scheduling the first end-of-month meal in January hosted by Monroeville United Methodist Church, the ministerium worked on the project for six to eight months to iron out the funding and details. Other ministerium congregations — Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Lutheran — have hosted or will host the meal in the near future.

"Before we started, we conducted a survey with our food pantry clients to see if they’d be interested in such a program," said Linda Kelly of Monroeville, deacon of Cross Roads Presbyterian Church. "The response was very positive."

Meals are served to patrons of Monroeville’s four food pantries between 5 and 7 p.m. on the last Sunday of each month. The meal consists of rolls and butter, a fruit or vegetable salad, a vegetable, a beverage and a rotating entree of pasta, beef or chicken. The host church also provides desserts.

Each meal costs about $200 and serves 100, invited by Monroeville’s four food pantries: Cross Roads, St. Bernadette, Garden City and Metropolitan Community Church. Initial funding came from grants, with local businesses and individuals serving as sponsors.

The meal is available as takeout or dine-in, and any food left is donated to local shelters or fire departments.

The meals draw a mix of all ages, and volunteers, usually one or two per congregation from each of the ministerium houses of worship, serve.

"Not only does the meal serve a need, but it also gives the patrons and volunteers a chance to meet and work together with people from different houses of worship," Mrs. Kelly said.

The ministerium has enough funding to provide meals through December. Whether it continues depends on business and individual sponsors. 

To make a contribution, send a check c/o the Rev. Bob Schaefer, MIM treasurer, to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 4503 Old William Penn Highway, Monroeville 15146.

Details:412-372-1200.

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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