Editor’s note – This is the first of 6+ articles/media posts on the Table. They will appear one or more per day.
“The Word of God is not found in the letter of scripture but in the mutual relationship between community and scripture. Thus the meaning of scripture–the Word of God can only be understood within the context of the living community, the church.
-Monica Jyotsna Melanchthon, Old Testament Scholar
The Table built on St. George’s long tradition of serving the community. The parish, when founded in 1720, cared for the widows and orphans of Fredericksburg. Over the decades, St. George’s has continued to work for those in need, founding and providing support for important local facilities such as the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank.
The Table evolved from an emergency-style food pantry that operated out of a closet-size space for more than 20 years. It was the result of changes of food distribution in the Fredericksburg area, a change of clientele and a change in philosophy in food distribution.
In 2007, the pre-Table ministry was called “Feed My Sheep” where they distributed bags of food from the basement of Faulkner Hall. There were canned foods and other dry staples. A memo at the time captured the character of its operations. “Each bag is filed with enough food to assist 2 people with 3 meals and a snack. Breakfast is usually cereal and fruit, lunch is a can of soup and some extra vegetables to stretch it if they need, or crackers and peanut butter with vegetables and some fruit (if we have) then for dinner some rice or noodles a can of tuna and can of vegetables and some fruit. As you can see one bag actually takes several of the items. We also try to give every family at least on packet of dry milk if we have it. Sometimes we get to add a cake mix or some type of desert item.”
People were limited to the number of times they could visit the pantry in a period. Many of the items in the bags were chosen for them though “baggers” could make substitutions based on the family, such if they had more children.Besides this pantry, St. George’s had people designated to take people to the Food Bank so they could shop.
In September of 2007, the area Food Bank notified the church that they would begin to rely on food pantries in the community as the sole way of food distribution in the community; no longer could individuals come to the Food Bank itself to shop. Instead what had been emergency food pantries needed to serve more people, more food.
St. George’s was converted over in October, 2010 to become a front line to the hungry. The Food Bank made deliveries originally but they lost federal funding to do that.
Mark and Nancy Delach came in as volunteers and spent 25 to 30 hours a week bringing food from the Food Bank to St. George’s and packed individual bags here. They would go through the salvage boxes themselves at the Food Bank since the Food Bank no longer had an inventory. They paid 19 cents a pound for food though many items were free that the Food Bank wanted to eliminate. Linda Carter came into help in 2011 and added a refrigerator for storing eggs and other items.
Discussions were ongoing after the change of the Food Bank. There were intense conversations at St. George’s about how we feed, who we feed and most importantly why we feed others. The church was searching for a model that was ambitious – community based, that didn’t limit people’s ability to come and was creative at the same time at how it delivered the food. This required planning where it would be done, how it would be done and how supporting funds could be raised.
The most pressing need with St. George’s becoming a front line distribution center was more space. It was a different space to allow food to be spread out. However, once the location was changed it opened up possibilities for a change in mission. Due to cramped space for the existing storage under Faulkner Hall and after a recent fire inspection, Outreach proposed to move the Food Pantry to Sydnor Hall
The Vestry voted to make this change on Dec. 15, 2011 which provided the foundation for the Table. It reflected the culmination of the changes described and the conversations that ensured. It wasn’t just space needed but a way space was used.
The growth towards a market style food distribution also reflected a change in those whom the church served. There was a definite change in clientele, who was coming to get food as noted in the Vestry Minutes.
“Originally St. George’s served the chronically homeless. Now, more families, the elderly and those in the twenties who cannot find employment were coming to the Pantry.” People coming to the pantry, many of whom suffered from health challenges such as diabetes and hypertension, required a wider variety of food and more healthy items, especially fresh produce“
Another step leading to the Table was the experience of a food pantry St. Gregory’s of Nysssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco and a book about it, Take this Bread by Sara Miles. A video was shown at the Vestry meeting. (You can see more of Sara Miles here.) This became a model of how St. George’s food pantry could become a market-based and much more.
The organizational details fell into place.“Food would be delivered on the small side of Sydnor and spread out. People would come in on Thursday at 11am and shop until 4pm. Carey Chirico, the head of Outreach, stressed that the church was not just giving out emergency food but we are the food bank.”
The day was shifted to Tuesday. “The new food pantry, open each Tuesday morning, focused on fresh produce and other perishables in addition to staples. The Table also presented the opportunity for shoppers to choose their own items from a much broader selection than formerly offered rather than be given a bag that someone else chose for them. “
This was the beginning of the Table, a market-style food pantry. It started out as food but soon became more than food.
An article in 2013 from the St. George’s Voice reflected the early days. “For some in our community,’ Church’ happens each Tuesday morning in Sydnor Hall. The lights snap on at 6:30 a.m. as chairs are set out, coffee made and tables lined up and old friends are greeted and hugged. Welcome to the Table, a ministry that began as a feeding ministry but has become so much more than the simple distribution of bread, rice and soup.”
“From the first we focused on being open weekly- inviting people to let go of fear, secure in the knowledge that they could return for more. We focused on fresh healthy food, and leadership that develops community. We focused on becoming a Church to each other.”
“Who comes to the Table – people “having to choose between buying enough food and paying the rent or buying quality food and paying for their medicine. “
“We began by supplementing the food we had to offer in our emergency food pantry with food grown in our garden here at St. George’s and the response was overwhelmingly positive. So when we converted to a weekly, market style pantry we knew that we wanted it to look as much like a free farmer’s market as we could make it.
“We wanted people to be able to choose, to choose the food that works best for their families – to have as many options of good healthy foods as we could supply.
“And perhaps most importantly we want to create a loving community. We have been very intentional about inviting those using the pantry to come back, to put on an apron and volunteer. We now have a core group who are here early and who stay late to help others get enough to eat. We are also intentional about letting our shoppers know that we look forward to seeing them next week.
“We come from a theology of abundance and one that acknowledges that we all come to the Table hungry for something and there are fed through God’s grace. Sometimes we are hungry for acceptance, sometimes for community and sometimes we are simply hungry for -carrots. In God’s Kingdom there are no poor or rich there is simply ‘us’. Ending hunger in the United States is a big work and it will take all of us contributing to make a difference in our community. All of us doing our share to bring awareness and love to a quiet issue that many of our neighbors live with daily. “
In April, 2012 they reported back to the Vestry just 3 months after it began: “The table is set up market style, providing a free choice shopping experience for our guests, and is open four hours every Tuesday. Twenty-five St. Georgians are involved in the gathering of food, setting-up, greeting, distributing groceries and cleaning up. We distribute 3000 lbs of food a week to about 100 families. The food comes from donations from the congregation and the Fredericksburg Food Bank, at a cost of $1000 a month.”
As noted above, a garden was also set up behind the graveyard. “Our Feed My Sheep Garden began as a way to grow seasonal vegetables to support Community Dinners and The Table. There are six members of the congregation involved.”
The results of the first year, 2012, are presented below. 330% increase in bags distributed:
The restricted Table account was funded that year from several sources – 1. Christmas Offering $4,225.93 2. Jan Meredith’s Easter Egg sales $3,150 3. Individual donations $2,267. 4. Transfer from Budget $898.22 5. ECW Avis Harris $100 These sources totaled $10,641. Expenses were $6,015.87.
The following shows the increase in those served, 182% in 2012:
A Diocesan magazine article in the summer of 2012 highlighted the story of the Table in its early days: