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September 16, 2023

Inspiring Mission Engagement in PNNE

Responses to the Questionnaire-PNNE’s Outreach to the Food and Housing Insecure

From the Outreach & Engagement Sub-Committee

A Bulletin Insert or Article for Your Church Newsletter

Food Insecurity

In the Spring of 2023, the Outreach and Engagement Sub-Committee sent out an invitation to the churches and fellowships of PNNE to participate in a questionnaire to aid the presbytery in learning about outreach and engagement in PNNE and to encourage networking, and the sharing of resources, ideas, and information.  The response was great, centering on 6 major areas of outreach, with 22 of the 23 churches responding that they have outreach programs for people experiencing food insecurity.

 

Our PNNE churches are living out Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 25, by ministering to the hungry, and here is why: According to Feeding America, in Maine, 144,290 people are facing hungry, 36,490 are children.  In NH, 93,940 people are hungry, 21,640 are children.  In Massachusetts, 564,030 are food insecure, 113,960 are children.  In Vermont, 57,150 are hungry, 12,040 are children.  Within the 4 states, 859,410 people are food insecure.  That is a staggering number of people dealing with hunger in New England.

 

The causes of this huge problem are varied-poverty, unemployment or low income, lack of affordable housing, lack of healthcare, daycare, transportation, and lack of access to good quality food, and inflation volatility.  Food insecurity can cause adverse health issues which affect peoples over all well-being.  Chronic hunger can cause an increase in diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and mental health issues.  It also causes rising levels of infectious and chronic diseases.  For children, there are devastating consequences like developmental delays, issues with asthma, anemia, anxiety, and a rise of aggressive behavior. 

 

Where is the good news when there is so much instability around food in New England?  The great news is YOU!  You are doing something about hunger in so many inspiring ways!  Your approaches are faithful, creative, and varied, where support goes from local to global outreach.  A few of you house food pantries in your church, some of you support community food pantries located elsewhere and many of you collect and deliver food stuffs, preparing and delivering hot, cold, and frozen meals.  The way you prepare and send out food differs as well.  Bags, boxes, and baskets are used.  Many reach out during the holidays.  Where you prep food differs with some churches cooking on site, some cooking in a volunteer’s homes, and some go elsewhere to prepare meals.

 

You also like to the support the food insecure with gift/grocery cards, and some of you participate in crop walks.  There is the hosting of farmer’s markets, which is also great.  And a few of you provide school age children with backpacks filled with food for the weekend.  It was noted that without this food, children would not have regular access to food until they got back to school. 

 

From your responses to the questionnaires, it was also very apparent that your church Deacons and Mission Committees are a large part of your church’s outreach and mission efforts, alongside volunteers from the church and community.  We have great outreach examples like North Turner feeding people in their community with a food pantry that the church provides, and they are also one of the churches taking care of those school age kids by providing backpacks of food for over the weekend.

 

Many churches listed responses that said coordinated collaborative efforts also really matter.  Fairbanks Union Church partnered with World Food Kitchen in raising $3,000 to feed people in the Ukraine.  Wow!  Windham Presbyterian has a partnership with the Roman Catholic Church, St. Matthew, with a drive thru food pantry that gives out food stuffs to 75-100 families per week.  What a clever way to provide much needed food to people-meals on the go.

 

Bedford Presbyterian Church houses a community Food Pantry in the church’s Mission Outpost.  They partner with the Lions Club, Trinity Life Church, National Charity League, and community volunteers to serve 5500 meals a month.  This pantry is seeing an uptick in need with approximately 18 more clients needing food each week.  This mission is demonstrating how a diverse group of people in a community can come together to work on this one thing-helping feed the hungry!

 

Leeds, we loved the fact you run a thrift store that provides service to the community but then you take the proceeds from the thrift store to support the food pantry!  A double blessing!  When you wrote on your questionnaire “Our church is small but big in heart.”  Leeds, we noted the spirit in which you engage with Matthew 25 in the mission field.  It is apparent that the work you are doing to clothe and feed the sheep in your fold is having a very large, positive  impact.

 

And Topsham, Vermont’s ministry of a “food Shelf” to provide immediate help is inspirational because any church or individual can do that!  Your work helps people in crisis, and it inspires us to work to increase church, community, and personal outreach. 

 

PNNE, many thanks for all you are doing to feed the hungry and help the food insecure!

 

 

Housing Insecurity

Another important growing outreach effort for the churches of PNNE has to do with the alarming rise in homelessness, housing insecurity and lack of affordable housing in Northern New England.  Jennifer Ludden in an NPR article entitled, “Why Can’t We Stop Homelessness-4 Reasons why there is no End in Sight”-July 12, 2023, talks about four factors that are driving the housing crisis in America: 

  1. More people than ever are being housed-but an even higher number are falling into homelessness.” A tight housing market, and rising housing costs due to inflation have led to rent and housing price spikes that are beyond affordable for the needy.

  2. People simply cannot pay for housing…”Rents are out of reach for many, and millions of affordable places have disappeared.” Pay and work hours being cut, low-cost rentals disappearing, rents beings raised, and again inflation keeps rising is leaving people homeless.

  3. Zoning laws and local opposition make it hard to build housing for low-income renters.” “Neighbors will say, ‘We don’t want low-income people living here,” and they will stop it. Even if low-income housing does get built, it isn’t necessarily affordable.

  4. Pandemic aid programs that helped keep many people housed are winding down.” Besides now having to pay for current rent people are now expected to pay past due rental debt. Finding good jobs and reliable affordable day care factors into the ability to pay rent. The problem just keeps compounding, especially in New England.

 

The Wall Street Journal reported in an article by Jon Kamp entitled, “Rise in Homelessness Hits Several New England States” from 2/6/2023 that 3 New England States, VT, Maine, and RI, have had some of the biggest increases in the homeless population.  Wisevoter listed the homeless population numbers by state-rounded up as follows:

                           MA-18,000             ME-2100                  NH-1700                  Vt-1100

 

Notable factors leading to homelessness increasing are inflation, poverty, social inequality, lack of employment, daycare, reliable transportation, and adequate healthcare and food.  You, the churches of PNNE, care about housing people with 13 of 23 respondents to the questionnaire either have programming that supports the housing insecure or are becoming more educated about the housing insecure and the lack of affordable housing because you are seeing a rise in numbers of people in need of safe affordable housing in your communities.

 

There are a variety of ways you support the homeless.  Two churches have day care centers that care for the homeless, Eliot who is giving the Matthew 25 moment being one of them.  Many of the respondents support people who are housing insecure by providing funds to aid in obtaining housing, which also includes supportive volunteers that minister to the homeless. 

 

Some churches participate in ministries that help those with housing instability by either providing home repairs like Bedford Presbyterian’s Helping Hands or churches working with partners in the community that do that kind of work as well like Bedford, Fairbanks, Wales, Leeds, and North New Portland’s support of MATE’s home repairs, tiny homes, and transitional housing initiatives.  Several churches support orphans or orphanages that are overseas. Nashua, Bedford, Eliot, and Mid-Coast are especially passionate about working on behalf people who are without homes or are housing insecure. 

 

There are churches, including Christ Church of Burlington that are studying issues regarding homelessness to educate themselves so they can decide how they might go about helping both on a practical level but also in their ability to advocate for justice regarding those who experience housing instability.  And Christ Church Burlington, you are wonderful and inspiring.  You not only wrote about your meal ministry, and you are moving forward with ministry to the housing insecure, but you also noted the church gives a whopping… astounding… 30 percent of your budget to mission and outreach.  You said and I quote, “CCB is small, and aging and mission is central to who we are.”  What a superb example of living out Matthew 25, especially that part, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me a drink!”  Just fantastic and it gives us all something to aspire to-increasing our giving to mission!  30 percent is bold and uplifting!  Thank you for setting such a faithful example before us!

 

It is so good to know our churches in our presbytery are living out Matthew 25 in big and powerful ways, no matter where or what size or make up our congregations are.  You care about people experiencing food and housing insecurity, and you are doing something about it.  We encourage you to read the responses to the questionnaires yourselves with the hopes it will inspire and encourage people in their outreach work!  In short order, you will be able to read them on PNNE.org.  Please go to Committees, and then click on Outreach.  If you would like to contact the sub-committee, please email Karen Hagy or Paul Brown.  We will make sure to share your thoughts with the Outreach Sub-Committee.

 

So, thank you, thank you, thank you all for your outreach and engagement!  You, PNNE, are making a positive faithful difference in the lives of the most vulnerable in Northern New England and beyond!

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