For the links of the programs and services I mention here, go to my original post at Monroe on a Budget: "You don't have to be "saved" to get groceries at a church."http://www.blogsmonroe.com/budget/2009/01/you-dont-have-to-be-saved-to-get-groceries-at-a-church/
I was trying to explain to someone the other day about the “grocery box” purchase programs such as Angel Food Ministries and Great Food For All … but I could quickly tell I was talking to a skeptic.
“What do I have to do?” he asked.
“Order the groceries, show up with your receipt on delivery day and pick them up.”
But he already knew that the pickup sites were at churches, and kept insisting there had to be more to this. “Don’t you have to listen to a lecture or something?”
“No, that’s not been my experience at all!” I said.
I suppose many of you might have the same question, especially if you are not regular church attendees or would have to visit a church outside your congregation / denomination / conference / ward / district to participate in the food assistance programs that are available in the Monroe County, Mich., community.
Bottom line: You do not have to be “saved” to get groceries at a church.
You have probably already realized that faith congregations have long been a big part of relief efforts in this country and abroad.
The money that is collected during Sunday offerings, mail appeals or through donation boxes is not meant just to keep the lights on in the building and pay the pastor’s salary. This money also supports the church’s ministry efforts - which usually include reaching out to needy people in their community through whatever projects the members decide to adopt.
Besides, churches typically have volunteers, storage space, classrooms and kitchens that can be used for events and activities beyond the intended worship and religious education purposes. It’s a good use of resources to include faith organizations in community service projects.
There are situations where being a member of the parish bumps you up on the priority list for assistance (private school tuition financial aid being a common example). But I have not found that to be the case with the local grocery and food assistance programs.
Here is what you can expect:Food pantries / food closets
I have never needed to use a food pantry. My husband and I don’t have family in Monroe, but we do have family about an hour’s drive away and we can always get dinner and / or a bag of groceries from the parents when needed.
So I can’t tell you from experience how the local church food pantries work.
What I can do is point you to the stated rules for the Monroe County Network on Homelessness Food Closet members. You show up during the food pantry’s designated office hours (remember, many are run by volunteers), and here are is the paperwork you are expected to provide when asked from the network pantries:
* Proof of household income - pay stub, food benefit card, SS, SSI, etc.
* Proof of residency - utility bill, rent receipt, property tax bill, etc.
* Proof of number of people in the family - Medicaid card, Social Security numbers, income tax return, etc.
Julie’s List also includes as much application information as possible in her food resource lists for southeast Michigan.
Documentation or sometimes a formal referral or appointments are required because many food pantries need to limit their services to certain counties, neighborhoods, or income level. Sometimes this food is provided through grants or government funding with the restrictions that it has to be used to assist certain populations. (Example: Monroe County Opportunity Program’s food assistance services have very strict requirements because of their funding restrictions.)
And the demand can overrun supply, so the food pantry committees need to make sure their groceries go to the intended purpose.
But I don’t see church membership or affiliation on the application requirement lists for local food pantries. Do you?Soup kitchens
I’ve also never had to use a soup kitchen, although I’m glad we have such a network in the Monroe area.
There was a point in May 2005 when my family was running out of money because my husband had bounced from one low-paying temp job to another for months. We were starting to work on “what if” scenarios if money didn’t arrive fast. At the time, there were two free dinners a week served in the city of Monroe at local churches. That program went on my “what if” list.
We got some groceries from my parents, survived that cash crunch and didn’t have to eat dinner at a soup kitchen.
But during the meantime, hundreds of volunteers from local families, civic groups and churches have been working to expand the community dinner service. There are now free dinners every night of the week in Monroe and also once or twice a week in some of the nearby cities through the organizational efforts of God Works! Soup Kitchen. This is in addition to the original two churches that continue to host their own dinner programs.
This program is open to any family in the Monroe County community. There are no applications. There is no income verification. The deal is, if you need a free hot meal for whatever reason, show up and you’ll be invited in.
I recently signed up to become a volunteer at the Friday dinners at St. Mary Catholic Church in Monroe. My team isn’t scheduled to work a dinner until March. But I’ve already attended the orientation.
The volunteers learned where supplies are kept in the kitchen, some key points in the health department food guidelines, what our work hours would be like, that someone needs to monitor the hallway so visitors don’t go wandering past the restrooms into the classroom building, and that we are part of a hospitality committee for the dinner guests.
I never heard anything in my orientation about asking the dinner guests where they go to church.
Grocery purchase programs
There are several discount grocery purchase programs operating in the United States. The two that are currently available in Monroe County are Angel Food Ministries and Great Food for All.
This is how those programs work:
You order your grocery boxes in advance from a pre-selected menu. Both of the locally-available programs offer a grocery assortment box for $30 or an alternate choice of 10 frozen individual meals. After you purchase the main selection, you can purchase additional grocery boxes from the specials of the month.
The groceries in the main boxes would cost about twice as much if you bought them at a typical supermarket, according to the program organizers. And these aren’t items you can easily find on sale or coupon deals. The discounts are possible because orders have to be paid in advance and selections are limited to what the national organizations can arrange for on bulk purchases.
Yes, the delivery sites are typically churches. They’ve got the volunteers and the gym or lobby space to sort and hand out grocery boxes.
I have ordered Angel Food boxes from Monroe Church of the Nazarene, and here is how it works at that location:
* Show up on delivery day with a basket or box to hold your groceries.
* Enter the church building from the back door, so you can stand in a hallway out of the weather if there is a line in the lobby.
* There is usually a hospitality table with donuts or treats for the customers (this is something the congregation does on its own).
* There is an unattended prayer request table where you are invited to write any prayer requests and stuff them in a box to be presented to a prayer committee (this is entirely up to you).
* There will be a room where you can place your orders for next month.
* A check-in table is where you show your receipt and your order is checked off as having been picked up.
* There is a crew of people in the lobby ready to stuff your basket or box with the groceries you ordered, and someone with friendly face will carry your groceries to your car.
* There will be a magazine from the national Angel Food Ministries organization in your grocery box, along with that weekend’s bulletin from Monroe Church of the Nazarene (after all, they are the local sponsors).
* And people will tell you to have a nice day.
Nobody at Monroe Church of the Nazarene has ever asked me where I go to church or if I am a Christian.
This is basically the routine I noticed at an Ohio church where I placed orders before Angel Food was available in Monroe.
Now, here’s a thought: If you think people in your congregation would prefer to get groceries from the faith community they already know and trust, then volunteer your time to help bring one of these projects to your church … or officially partner up with another congregation that is already a host site.