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The Black Church Farm NetworkThere has been for this past Black History Month a 4-week, Tuesday night, Zoom session run by the Pastor Heber Brown III. A verbally colorful man who speaks with much passion about food and land in the Black community. He can talk and talk and then will say this as a reflection of his self-knowledge:He says, “I’m a Baptist preacher, I can talk all night and then wash your feet before you go.” He keeps me listening with that kind of energy and fun and love. What these four weeks have done for me is to dig in deeper to the ideas he preaches against food charity and for food justice and sovereignty. I believe this too. I have wanted someone to fire me up to pursue these actions because if you know like Heber Brown knows about the power of the land to be the real source of freedom, and the use of that land to grow food, then you know why growing food is one of the holiest experiences in life. (My thought and words, not his.)One of the four weeks of this Zoom call to being was devoted to a group in Jacksonville, FL. This group has (forgive me here, the numbers escape me) but around 150 churches in a relatively small area. These churches all have some land and that land is cultivated and the people of that area eat well. And they work together, they share, they celebrate what God gave us. I encourage you to look up the work of Pastor Brown. You’ll find it here. blackchurchpower.comAnd so while this is just a thumbnail sketch of four weeks of talks about the Black Farmers Association and the unequal distribution of resources by our USDA. And about the underlying privilege of food pantries and food banks that ultimately support the underlying causes of food insecurity, I am fired up to be a part of the food ministry of Christ Episcopal Church. We have no land but we are a resourceful and ingenious congregation. We don’t all have access to the basic foods we need. But we are a loving body of Christ. As Jesus provides, we aid that transmission of love. If you have not yet donated your time, talents or money to the Food Pantry, I urge you to do so. We do feed the hungry in so many ways.Deborah Emin
In honor of Black History Month, I want to begin talking about food self-sufficiency rather than food charity. It is a given that within our church community, we must rely on delivering food by distributing donations and actively seeking donations. Christ Episcopal Church has no land. We barely have enough indoor space for all the activities that go on at our church. But by looking at, studying how various Black organizations, both associated with churches or part of a social justice movement, use land and their partners to instill food self-sufficiency within their communities, we can find new ways to make sure that we do feed the poor but by helping them to learn to feed themselves. This is a broad topic. On the one hand, there is the Episcopal Agrarian Ministry that works with Episcopal churches all over the country to help them make use of their land to grow food. This is a good example of how our church talks about farming. On the other hand, there is the Black Church Food Security Network. This organization is dedicated to ending what they call “food charity,” and help churches, farmers, local organizations to become self-sufficient and stop describing themselves as living in food deserts. Rather, they demonstrate the ways industrialized food has oppressed communities of color and made them sick.These two organizations (The Episcopal Agrarian Ministry and The Black Church Food Security Network) offer us excellent opportunities to think about how we as a church with a growing and necessary food ministry may be able to re-think and discover new ways of ensuring everyone eats healthy food and is an active participant in this process. Stay tuned for next week’s blog. Deborah Emin
The Food Pantry re-opened its doors on Saturday, February 3. More than 300 people showed up along with a large roster of volunteers. With the emptying out of the two storage rooms for painting and new floors, along with better refrigerator and freezer capacities, the half of the Fellowship Hall discreetly hiding the foods that used to be there made for an interesting shopping challenge. Yet, let it never be said that the team running the Food Pantry is not up to such challenges. And the flow of folks with carts (many of them newly acquired by the church) kept moving around a U-shaped pathway that offered members much variety in food selection. Onions, carrots, apples, juice oranges and potatoes. Eggs. Meat. Plus dried beans, canned vegetables, rice, nuts, raisins and even ice tea. (I’m sure I forgot things.) A new member of our volunteer team noticed how many different meals could be made just from the one day’s distribution. It was good to be back after the month-long hiatus. In newer news, we will be installing a greenhouse in Fr Bruce’s office this month and planting seeds to grow herbs for the Food Pantry. This is probably a pilot project. Despite the church not having land to grow food on, we are exploring indoor projects such as this as well as Tower Gardens. Please hit me up for any information regarding this convenient way to grow food year round and indoors. If anyone wants to either grow herbs at home for this project or participate here at the church, you are welcome to join us. And thanks to Fr Bruce for accommodating this project.Deborah Emin
Recently, I attended a meeting at Mount Airy Casino where the Pocono Chamber of Commerce presented one of their overviews of the economic situation in Monroe County.They distributed a several page report on job trends, wages, industry overviews and a detailed demographic of those working in Monroe County and the median incomes for the jobs. With minimum wage stuck at $7.25/hour, many in this report have very little chance over the next five years to see much change in their personal financial outlook.With 73% of those who work in Monroe County combined having no degree higher than a high school diploma, this area also does not have many making more than minimum wage. Given that the median income is $51,000, we are looking at what might be called a community in need of assistance.Christ Episcopal Church’s Food Pantry fulfills many needs for those in need of assistance and I am talking about for those who are employed full time. This is an important point. Many presume that those coming to our food pantry are unemployed and all would be well if only they got a job. From these simple statistics we see that is not necessarily the case. And what’s more, if a worker is making minimum wage, let’s think about what a paycheck pays for. Think about your average grocery bill. Obviously, that is not your only expense nor is it anyone else’s. But also think about the increased cost of food over the past 3 years.Recently, I did a simple calculation. I had gone to the grocery store to buy soy milk, fruits, vegetables for a salad, a bottle of salad dressing, a loaf of bread and some bottled water. This cost about $60, which already seems excessive. But if you divide that by $7.25, you realize that amounts to over 8 hours of work, without taxes being subtracted, and no other essentials covered. And none of these “essentials” would feed a family for long. As one more number to contemplate: 34% of families in Monroe County are a single parent family, meaning one income.We must do better than this. Surely, we can. But we cannot raise children into health from an environment of poverty.Please consider donating your time and financial assistance as you are able. This is a community project. Deborah Emin 
The Future Looks Good No one wants to project an indefinite need for a food pantry. Yet, given the present circumstances in our area, it is safe to predict that the CEC Food Pantry will be a necessary ministry for the time being. If you attended the recent Annual Meeting or read the church’s Annual Report, you are aware of what the future (2024) looks like in terms of planned days of receipt of food from Second Harvest and distribution of the food on the following day. The schedule has been set up. Food is also coming in from other sources and as of now, donations come in weekly from Earthlight Natural Foods on Ann Street in Stroudsburg. Please give them a shout out and support their store. Despite many saying how difficult these big box stores are to get to donate food, Price Chopper, in Middle Smithfield Township on Route 209 has stepped up and supports two food pantries with donations three times per week to each. This was made possible by their assistant manager who responded to the increasing need of our members. As the future continues beneath our feet and we walk into the other ways we can provide fresh foods, in February, we’ll host a talk and demo for planting seeds in anticipation of spring. We intend to grow herbs for the Food Pantry to accompany recipes we’ll also share. This mini-greenhouse will be in Fr Bruce’s office. We may be short on growing space but we are long on ingenuity and generosity. So, keep your eyes open for an announcement for our first seed planting. Currently, sleeping under the snow in the Middle Smithfield Community Garden is a bed of garlic intended too for the Food Pantry. Take this as an invitation to all you gardeners in our parish. Please add to our bounty. Grow for us too. Or if you know farmers in the area who may want to donate, talk to Debby Campbell about how Second Harvest partners with local, PA farmers to grow for us. I’m thinking that the future is bright. We’re working with our mission and walking it forward. Please join us. Deborah Emin
Food Pantry Volunteer TrainingVolunteer training is a necessary aspect of any well run organization that relies heavily on those willing to give of their time. We, at CEC, are blessed to have a large roster of volunteers who jump in to lend a hand often and happily. Getting to this level of “professional volunteerism,” I think, means that the church is investing in this large cadre of people (39 is the current number of people on the roster to volunteer) and making sure that all are safe and well trained. Understanding the do’s and don’t’s of volunteering at the Food Pantry protects us all as well as the viability of the Food Pantry’s operations. I’m looking forward to seeing as many as can join us on Saturday, starting at 10 am. If you know people who are interested in joining us, please have them register by emailing the church for instructions. This Saturday would have been our second Saturday in January to distribute food. And the plan is to close the Food Pantry each January for repairs, inventory, training of new volunteers. I suspect that many also needed a break from the intensity of the work during November and December when everyone’s energies are taxed to provide not just food but gifts and games and all that being in the Christmas Spirit means even when one’s resources are stretched and it is easy to feel alone and disheartened. I know that volunteering is a wonderful way to work out of that sadness while helping others to be relieved of their sadness too. Let’s all thank each other for all we do, together, and in keeping with Christ’s example of feeding the poor, welcoming the stranger, loving the children and being that church of compassion, love and healing.Author: Deborah Emin

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