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CTTT Technical Assistance Spotlight: Long’s Chapel UMC

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 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, Rev. Tom Owens of Long’s Chapel UMC in Waynesville, to learn more about the Long’s Chapel food ministry and the impact of the grant.

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

Our food program, The Open Door, began over twenty years ago in response to a need our church saw in Waynesville. Historically, the neighborhood we are in has attracted a lot of transient individuals, many of whom are hungry. Our ministry started off as a soup kitchen that was open three days a week. Over time, the ministry has expanded and now we’re serving over 1,000 hot meals a month and giving out just under 1,000 food bags a month. The hot meals are still served mostly to people who are transient or without housing, whereas the food bags help to support migrant workers and people in low-income communities.

Where is the food for your ministry sourced from?

A lot of our food is donated by local grocery stores and individuals. Whatever isn’t donated, or if we just want to include more seasonal vegetables in our meals, we buy from a local organic farm, Christopher Farms. We buy things like microgreens, tomatoes, and their coleslaw mix. We also receive donations from Haywood Gleaners, a group that gleans produce from local farms, and we raise some vegetables in our church’s garden. This is a great way to provide fresh, nutritious food to those in our community. We’ve noticed that when people are empowered to eat better, they feel better, and this can help them transition to a new season of life.

How did you form your relationship with Christopher Farms?

To put it simply, we formed our relationship by starting to purchase from them. They were the source of local, organic food in our area. Our food manager at the time had a passion for local food. Over time we got to know the folks over there, and our relationship grew.

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

We’re really a tight-knit community at The Open Door. We don’t refer to the people we serve as clients or guests; rather, they’re family members. And it really does become a family. Serving hot meals, we spend about every day with many of these people. For those that don’t have addresses, we collect their mail for them. It’s been a blessing to be in such community with these folks. One thing about outreach is that it’s truly symbiotic. We gain so much from folks that we are doing ministry with.

How has the pandemic impacted or changed your work?

Food insecurity has skyrocketed during the pandemic, but since we have been working in food ministry for so long, we were well positioned to respond. Our main hurdle has certainly been the changes to our social enterprise, the thrift store. Our primary source of revenue for the food ministry is from our thrift store, yet we lost around $50,000 in revenue during the shutdown. 100 percent of profit from the thrift store has always gone to The Open Door, helping us to purchase from Christopher Farms. Because of this loss, we have been more reliant on donations and grants. Thankfully, we have been blessed to receive a lot of funding from these sources during the pandemic.

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

Because of the loss of income from our social enterprise, we’ve really been leaning on the support of our partners, such as RAFI. These grants have helped to offset the lost revenue from our thrift store and enabled us to continue providing fresh, nutritious produce. It has been such a blessing to see the way organizations and faith communities have stepped up during this pandemic. This really is Kingdom work, and together we’re making the world a better place.
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