RAFI-USA’s Come to the Table program has been providing mini-grants to churches throughout North Carolina who have been responding to the increased hunger in their communities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These mini-grants provide funding to churches who are purchasing food from local growers or local restaurants to distribute in their community.
Come to the Table is uniquely situated to connect faith communities with farmers and farmers markets in their communities. Please contact Michelle Osborne ([email protected]) for more information.
We had a conversation with one grantee, Julie Fujita of Anointed Ones Church of Deliverance Int’l in Ayden, to learn more about their food ministry and the impact of the grant.
How did your food program begin? What was it a response to?
Our food program began in 1998. Our Pastor Apostle Ruth Peterson had a passion to feed the community. Wherever there was a need, we wanted to meet that need. One of our church members worked at the food bank and introduced us. So, we partnered with the food bank, and this is what got us started in food ministry. Since we began, we’ve grown exponentially, moving from a small building to a large multipurpose center in Ayden.
Where is the food for your ministry sourced from?
Before the pandemic, our food came from the food bank, Fresh Market, Food Lion, sometimes Walmart, and private donations. While we still get food from these sources, the Come to the Table grant has allowed us to partner with local farms, which is something we hadn’t thought much about until now. So far, we’ve purchased from Briley’s Farm Market, Sumrell’s Country Sausage, and Strawberries on 903. We had never heard of a grant specifically for local farms, but this has allowed us to support local farmers while they may be struggling, which in turn gives us more options for our food boxes. We’re able to give out fresh meat and produce, stuff that can be very expensive, especially for families now during the pandemic.
Once you received the grant, how did you go about connecting with local farmers?
To be honest, the first thing I did was Google “local farms.” From there, I started making phone calls and telling them about the grant. We actually got to go out and meet the farmers to see what they had. The youth from our church especially enjoyed this. Jarred was also helpful in connecting us with farmers. Purchasing from minority farmers is important to RAFI, and we really appreciated this, so RAFI has been helpful in connecting us with minority farmers in our area.
Now that you’ve started purchasing from local farmers, do you think this is something you’ll continue to do beyond the pandemic?
Absolutely! It’s something we hadn’t really thought about before, but this grant has opened up that avenue to partner with these local farmers. It helps the whole community. It helps us sustain the farmers and the families that we’re in ministry with. It’s a win-win. Plus, people are always surprised by the amount and quality of the food this puts in their boxes. Seeing fresh produce like tomatoes, zucchini, and peaches – that makes a big difference to families.
How has the pandemic impacted or changed your work?
The pandemic has had a big impact. First, we had to figure out how we were going to serve. Some places had to stop serving for a while, but our pastor said, “This is what we’re here for, to help people.” So, we found different ways to go about serving. We now do the sorting inside but distribute the food through a drive-thru. Also since the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in the number of people we’re serving, and we’ve gotten a lot of younger families with kids.
How has this Come to the Table mini-grant helped to support your work?
This grant has made such a difference for us. It has opened up a whole new avenue to us for food. We can go buy fresh produce and meat from the market, milk and butter from the creamery. And it has been so much fun going to the farm with the youth from the church. It’s been an educational experience for them, too.