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CTTT Technical Assistance Spotlight: Calvary Memorial UMC

Pastor Jason Leighton assists with food distribution.

RAFI’s Come to the Table program has been providing mini-grants to rural United Methodist Churches throughout North Carolina who have been responding to the increased hunger in their communities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These mini-grants are made possible through the support of The Duke Endowment and 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, Patty Herring of Calvary Memorial United Methodist Church in Snow Hill, to learn more about Calvary Memorial’s food ministry and the impact of the grant.

How did your food program begin? What was it a response to?

In the last ten years, our church has become very mission focused, globally and locally. For the past seven years we have been doing the Backpack Blessings Program, where our church partners with a local Pre-K program to provide backpacks full of food weekly to the identified children who are food insecure.

How did you build your relationship with the farmer you are partnering with? What is that relationship like?

It was almost a natural process for us. The Kearney family raises beef at Nooherooka Natural and they are members of our church, so we knew that once we got the grant we would work with them because we knew each other well. The fruits and the vegetables come from Relyea Produce Farm. They are well-known for their produce and a lot of church members knew them and their great food. We also have a huge sweet potato business here called Ham’s Yams and so we called on them as well, and they donated a bushel of yams. It was natural. We have the businesses right here and we know them, so it was seamless.

The church purchased pasture-raised beef and pork from Nooherooka Natural, the farm of a  church member, as well as two other farms in the community. 

What would you say to a church that is concerned that buying from local farmers might be more expensive than buying from a large retailer?

It probably is a lot cheaper to go to a grocery store, I will not argue that point, however when you buy from a local grower you are supporting them in their business and helping them to sustain themselves. You’re getting better quality food, you know the families, and you know their organic process. We were never challenged by anyone, we never ran against any concerns about doing it this way.

What is your relationship with those in the community that you serve?

It has been so helpful during this time. The way our program is set up, we don’t know who the food is going to for privacy reasons, but we hear the stories and how much it means for these families to get the food. It really makes a difference for these children to have food over the weekend during the school year.

How has the virus changed your work?

Previously we’ve had a great deal of support through fundraisers, but this year has been difficult with coronavirus because our fundraisers were typically dinners after church and auctions. In light of COVID-19, we have kept our groups putting together the backpacks under six people. I get a lot of support, people want to come out and get involved during this time. This has been one of the most exciting things I’ve done at church, it allowed me to coordinate and think through to make sure we were doing everything to keep the program going.

How has this Come to the Table mini-grant helped to support your work?

I’m very enthusiastic about what we are doing and I really appreciate RAFI supporting us in such a big way. It has made a huge difference supporting the families we have been helping. We have a little bit of money in the mission fund, we would have figured out a way, but the mini-grant has really enabled us to obtain the meats, quality fresh vegetables, and that has been wonderful.