Across the country, houses of worship reach out to serve neighbors in need by opening food pantries, establishing community gardens and providing volunteers for hunger relief efforts. The Duke Endowment supports these programs through rural United Methodist churches in North Carolina as a way to feed the hungry, fortify communities and strengthen congregations.
Growing Numbers of Hungry Families
Nationally, Feeding America says that nearly 50 million people, or one in six, are food insecure.
In this region and beyond, the statistics can be just as startling. According to the 2014 “Hunger in America Study,” by Feeding America, and the “Food Hardship in America” report from the Food Research and Action Center, North Carolina:
- Has more than 1.7 million food insecure people.
- Has one of the highest percentages in the United States (26.7 percent) of children under 18 who are food insecure on a regular basis.
- Ranked among the top ten states with the highest percentage of people experiencing food shortages between 2010 and 2015.
- Has several cities with some the highest levels of food insecurity in the nation: Greensboro, High Point, Asheville and Winston-Salem.
- Has approximately 160,000 people receiving emergency food assistance in any given week.
Promoting Congregational Outreach
The Duke Endowment’s Rural Church program area promotes church-based hunger relief efforts through its Congregational Outreach work. Such programs help communities by increasing access to healthy food, and they have demonstrated effectiveness in strengthening congregations by increasing volunteerism and engagement.
The Endowment’s food work began in the 1980s when the Rural Church program area helped congregations reach out to local farmers by hosting farmers’ markets in church parking lots. Some two dozen markets were established and many still operate today.
More recently, the Endowment has:
- Worked to promote access to healthful food by funding community gardens sponsored by United Methodist congregations. Many rural churches lie within food deserts, and these programs provide needed access to fresh produce.
- Supported many church-based food pantry, backpack and food distribution programs.
- Worked with collaborators and grantees on agricultural and economic development issues statewide.
- Collaborated with the North Carolina Council of Churches and the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI) to offer “Come to the Table” conferences. The regional gatherings, held every other year, bring together faith leaders, farmers and staff from food-related nonprofits.
With food and hunger still a critical issue in North Carolina, the Endowment continues to develop ways to engage rural United Methodist congregations in this work. Churches have demonstrated that they are effective providers of hunger relief programming and that these programs strengthen churches by increasing volunteerism while providing communities with important resources for addressing food insecurity.
Recent grants have sought to evaluate grantmaking effectiveness, highlight best practices, and help determine the next steps for joining statewide partners.
Between 2011 and 2015, the Endowment provided nearly $3.4 million toward food and hunger projects, including bolstering food pantries and student nutrition programs, increasing the distribution of fresh produce, and expanding community gardens.
One grant to Ledford’s Chapel United Methodist Church, for example, supported the expansion of Matt’s Ministry, a program that offers food bags for children, food delivery to seniors, a food pantry for neighbors in need – and free books for preschoolers and their parents. It’s based in the rural mountains of western North Carolina, in one of the state’s 40 most distressed counties.
The Endowment grant will help the library service include more children, and increase meal delivery to seniors. It will also help buy and distribute more fresh produce, and allow additional volunteers to join the effort.
The Endowment is also partnering with external partners on comprehensive projects that impact food systems. In 2014, the Endowment provided $60,000 to the Corridor District, North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, to develop a food-centered wellness program for clergy and congregations in a five-county area. The program will evaluate and encourage healthy eating practices, map the district’s United Methodist faith communities in relation to food deserts and food producers, and engage the congregations in community food-system work.
In 2015, the Endowment announced nearly $1.6 million in support of Partners in Health and Wholeness, an initiative of the North Carolina Council of Churches. This program certifies churches to serve as health promotion centers in the community, providing healthy eating and food ministry programs. The BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina Foundation has also approved $600,000 in support. In addition, the Endowment made a $20,000 grant in 2015 to Partners for Sacred Places to evaluate food ministry programs supported by the Endowment.
A 2016 grant is providing $800,000 to Food LINC, part of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative. Collectively, the Endowment, Gates Family Foundation, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, Oak Foundation, The One Foundation, Surdna Foundation, and Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation have committed $2 million to the project.
The Endowment’s support will help connect farmers, fresh produce, and local people who need healthy food in eastern North Carolina. The Conservation Fund’s Resourceful Communities will coordinate the work in this region.
Participating Sites in North Carolina
- North Carolina Conference, United Methodist Church, Raleigh
- Western North Carolina Conference, United Methodist Church, Charlotte
- North Carolina Council of Churches, Raleigh
- Resourceful Communities, Chapel Hill