Early on in the pandemic, a few of the pastors searched through our church archives for information about how Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church weathered the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Did the church shut down for an extended period of time? How did our congregation respond to the needs of those most deeply impacted by the disease?
It begs the question of how future generations at BMPC will tell the story of how we responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That story, of course, is still unfolding. As we reach the end of the calendar year, it is worth telling the story of our Hunger Ministries in 2020 and to thank so many of you who have been an important part of this story.
In a typical year the BMPC Hunger Committee grants over $50,000 to about 18 local hunger organizations and makes more than 15,000 casseroles as a part of the monthly blitz events that are used to provide meals and hospitality in greater Philadelphia. All of this has been funded by donations to the Hunger Fund, made mostly through the white Hunger Envelopes located in the pew racks and dropped in the offering plate each Sunday morning.
Back in January, the committee budgeted for about $56,000 in donations, hoping that members of the congregation would remain committed to a ministry that has been integral to the mission identity of our church since the 1970s.
And then the pandemic hit.
Of course, the Hunger Committee had two primary concerns at the outset.
First, the unavoidable reality that deepening and widespread food insecurity would both be an immediate and lasting impact of quarantines and closures. Members of the committee regularly communicated with our partners to understand how their operations and their needs were changing in light of the pandemic, and to understand how we could help.
Partners shared stories of increased usage, struggles to access low-cost food from normal supply chains, radical changes in the logistics for how they were able to serve the communities who rely on them for support, and the personal sacrifices that staff and volunteers were making to keep them open.
These shifting needs have continued as the year has progressed, and we continue to be inspired by partners that have combined compassion and ingenuity to serve their communities. A remarkable example of this has been Urban Tree Connection. We have partnered with UTC for years and have appreciated that they not only feed people but also teach urban farming, mentor youth and young adults, and create community owned and run markets in West Philadelphia. But it wasn’t long into the pandemic before UTC staff realized that traditional models just wouldn’t work this year. They shifted to what we might recognize as a Community Supported Agriculture model, delivering fresh vegetables to families in Philadelphia neighborhoods at no cost. BMPC’s financial support allowed them to make that shift without concern that it wouldn’t be sustainable through the growing season. This is just one example of the passion and creativity that we have been privileged to be a part of.
Second, if church folks didn’t have that weekly reminder of those little white envelopes in the pews each week, would we see a decline in giving to the fund? As the needs of our partners increased, would we see a decrease in our ability to help?
While that was a reasonable concern, it became clear that giving to the Hunger Fund would become a primary way that members of our congregation and the community would respond to those who have been impacted most deeply by the pandemic.
As I mentioned, the committee anticipates donations of around $50,000 in a typical year. To date, donations in 2020 have reached approximately $110,000.
You all have responded with an abundant generosity, and it has been both inspiring and profoundly encouraging to the Hunger Committee. Early on the group met twice a month to ensure that funding was sent out to partners as quickly as it was coming into the church. Increased funding not only allowed the church to double and sometimes triple giving to longstanding partners, but also to give first-time grants to organizations that were entering food insecurity work for the first time. This increased funding also has allowed us to hire Ruth Johnson, our preferred caterer, to continue our casserole ministry while it is still too risky to gather for a blitz event.
You all also have responded in ways outside of financial donations as well: delivering food bags for Lower Merion School District from April through August, bringing non-perishable food to the Children & Family and Youth Ministries drive-thru food drive in September, and generally supporting us by sharing information and through prayer.
When we tell the story of 2020, I know it will include these stories of your generosity, stories of your engagement and stories of your compassion.
On behalf of the Hunger Committee, we thank everyone who donated this year: those who maintained their regular giving to hunger, those who gave for the first time, and especially those who gave over and above in response to this great need.
I want to especially thank the members of the Hunger Committee for their hard work, their passion for this ministry, their care for our partners, and their good humor through some difficult months. I am privileged to work with all of them.
Of course, I can’t end without a reminder that just because the year is ending doesn’t mean that the work is ending. We know the next few months may be just as hard, if not harder, for many in our community and greater Philadelphia. Giving to the Hunger Fund online is easier than ever, through the giving page on our website, or simply by clicking here.
Thank you again for your generosity that has enabled us to continue to be the Church together in this critical time.