October was Hunger Awareness Month at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Presidio Heights. This project was a first for St. John’s, which has hosted its Harvest Food Pantry for the last 11 years. The month featured events including a 31-day Hunger Challenge, a double-feature movie night, and a community pot luck.
“Hunger Awareness Month was a great opportunity for those in our congregation who don’t participate in our weekly Harvest Pantry to learn about the reality of hunger in our community, a serious issue our church is working on,” said Reverend Theresa Cho.
In October, the church’s regular activities had a hunger awareness theme. To spice things up they converted the monthly pot-luck into an opportunity to cook meals using recipes that met the Hunger Challenge budget. “The pot luck was interesting, because in some aspects it wasn’t as plush as our other pot lucks have been,” said Reverend Cho. “But it gave the opportunity to have some conversation about how challenging and difficult a food stamp budget is and how intentional you have to be with your shopping and eating on that budget.”
While this was the congregation’s first Hunger Awareness Month, Reverend Cho hopes the experience sparks a recurring tradition for years to come. “A large portion of our congregation includes families with young children, so a lot of the reaction has been ‘it’s so difficult!’ Trying to find the intention and energy to participate in the awareness month sparked great family conversations.”
The St. John’s community has been working with the Food Bank to feed families in their neighborhood for years through their Harvest Pantry. Now that Cho and her colleagues have decided to expand the hunger awareness work beyond the pantry, others are being exposed to the everyday issues of hunger. “Hopefully the experience shows you can’t judge a book by its cover and you can’t guess who is living on food stamps. There are people in our congregation, even though we are in Presidio Heights, that may be living on a food stamp budget and we don’t even know.“
With the recent decline of the economy, many members of Cho’s congregation are feeling the pinch, including the church itself. But rather than cutting mission work, which Cho says is often “the first to go” from a church budget during tough times, St. John’s is putting more effort into helping feed their community. By focusing on a basic human issue such as hunger, “it’s helped our congregation discover what’s really important.”
As far as what others in the community can do to be hunger aware, Cho says, “For an individual it’s so simple to help out. It’s amazing that in two hours we can feed fresh produce to 300 families. Two hours out of your day and you’ve helped feed families. It’s that simple.”
Commenting on the success of St. John’s Harvest Pantry, Cho shared “I think people would be surprised at how easy it is to start a Food Bank pantry in your church, and I encourage other churches to get involved with the Food Bank. Everyone can help out in some way, whether it’s through donating, volunteering or hosting a pantry. Hunger is such a tangible and obvious need in the community, which is why it is an issue that anyone can get involved with.”