Food Justice, First Congregational, and Food for Lane County

Brenda Kame’enui – First Congregational Church UCC – Eugene

The Earth Stewardship Team at First Congregational Church-UCC Eugene helps the Justice & Witness Committee keep food justice issues and farm-to-table opportunities in the minds of church members.

FOOD for Lane County (FFLC) is Eugene’s local nonprofit food bank, dedicated to eliminating hunger by creating access to food in our community. For many years, First Congregational UCC in Eugene has provided volunteers for the Dining Room, which provides free, nutritious meals for low-income diners in a café setting (200-300/night, M-Th). The delicious food is prepared by a FFLC employee out of food provided by local donors (e.g., grocery stores, the U of O).  As First Congregational’s Rev. Melanie Oommen says, it is the heart and spirit in which the food is served and received that makes the experience unique. FFLC staff and volunteers warmly welcome diners and treat them with respect and dignity in a nondiscriminatory setting.

Food Rescue Express is another Food for Lane County program that uses a large group of FCC-UCC Eugene volunteers. This program recovers food from hospitals, restaurants, grocery stores, and schools and repackages it into family-sized portions.  A large group of FCC-UCC members, including families, volunteers monthly to repack food for distribution.  It’s a fun and productive evening for volunteers.

FFLC sponsors a Grassroots Garden and Youth Farm, where local youth grow and sell produce to the public.  The farming and business development make this project an excellent way for young people, many of whom have been in trouble or have faced disadvantage, to meet the public.

Each year on Pentecost Sunday, the Justice & Witness Committee at FCC-UCC Eugene recommends an organization to receive the special offering.  The goal is to help seed a program that would benefit from a jump start.  This year’s choice was another FFLC program, a cooperative endeavor with food businesses in Eugene.  FFLC recently launched a drive to put healthy, protein- and fiber-rich locally produced chili on the tables of hungry people in Lane County.  The shelf-stable meal-sized packages of lentils, barley, and spices are ready for patrons, and the Oregon State University extension service has been providing tastes and recipe cards to food bank recipients.

This exciting program began with FFLC’s purchase of 6,000 pounds of lentils and barley from a Willamette Valley farmer.  GloryBee Foods then chipped in chili seasoning.  An Idaho farmer read about FFLC’s efforts and donated 10,000 pounds of lentils left over from last year’s crop.  The project attracted the interest of the Oregon Food Bank Network, and OFB has now contracted to buy hundreds of thousands of pounds of lentils and barley from Willamette Valley farmers.

There is no end to both the need and opportunity to feed our hungry neighbors.  It’s fitting to dedicate a “row in the garden” and a place in our hearts for feeding the hungry delicious, healthy food with a dose of dignity.

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