Two years ago, Julie Printz had an epiphany about hunger. A member of Gloria Dei Lutheran in St. Paul, she was in the Highland neighborhood distributing fresh produce at Neighborhood House’s Francis Basket Food Market when she noticed a woman coming down the line toward her. The woman had been crying, and as she approached, confided to Julie that to attend the distribution she had hired a babysitter she could scarcely afford – but after arriving found that nearly all of the produce was picked-over or gone. Julie’s experience opened her eyes to the presence of hunger in her own backyard: “There’s so much need, so much disparity; here I am with three tomatoes in my refrigerator, and one will probably be tossed.”
Experiences like these, that raise awareness and inspire others to action, are made possible at Gloria Dei Lutheran through the work of the Outreach Committee. Formed to extend congregational participation across generations and throughout the community, the committee helps congregants like Julie to participate in ministry in a tangible way. “People want to be involved” says current chair, Danica Goshert, “we find a way to help them make a meaningful connection.”
The work of the Outreach Committee has evolved over the years, but a focus on hunger and supporting the work of Neighborhood House have remained consistent. The committee has lead efforts to build a giving garden that grew from 1 to 3 planter beds over the course of a year, created a backpack program to ensure that children receive nutritious meals during the weekends, and the church continues to send large groups of volunteers to assist with produce distributions at Francis Basket. Danica explains that this emphasis comes from an understanding that there are many issues of social and economic justice that surround hunger, and that food insecurity must often be addressed before other challenges can be dealt with.
For Julie, the focus on hunger creates a space for many congregants to interact with big societal problems on a human level: “Food is such a basic thing for many of us, and it’s appalling that we have families and children three blocks from my home going hungry. I love that Neighborhood House is working right here in our neighborhood to support a community that sometimes seems invisible.”