By David Broyles, Mt. Airy News
Piney Grove Baptist Church’s food ministries recently got a boost from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (BCBSNC) in the form of a $5,000 healthy eating equipment grant.
The effort is a partnership between BCBSNC and the North Carolina Council of Churches to provide equipment for 20 faith-based organizations to bring healthier food to their members and communities.
More than $90,000 in equipment grants are being used to provide canning and cooking supplies, expand church community gardens and increase storage for fresh produce. The equipment grants in 16 counties are aimed at advancing the Partners in Health and Wholeness Initiative. One of the grant criteria was that applicants had to participate in the Partners in Health and Wholeness Initiative certification program.
“I saw this as a good opportunity for our church,” said church member and grant writer Celena Watson. “We have so many food ministries we are involved in.”
She explained the majority of the grant the church received — $4,300 — went to purchase a three-door stainless steel refrigerator unit with the remainder going to purchase agricultural lime, fertilizer, bedding plants and seeds for the Piney Grove Church Community Garden, which has been increased in size. She said the community garden project is a part of the Healthy Eating And Loving Servants (HEALS) program.
Pastor Mark Reece said a second food ministry at the church provides non-perishable food distribution to the community through a team of church members and volunteers.
Piney Grove also plans on continuing to offer the Kids Cafe Tutoring Ministry program in partnership with Rockford Elementary School. Participants in Kids Cafe typically arrive on Mondays and Tuesdays during the school year for tutoring and receive healthy snacks.
Reece said a fourth ministry offered through the church is a Friendship Meal that is held on the last Thursday of every month.
“All four of these ministries will benefit from this cooler,” said Reece. “We plan on keeping a distribution and collection log to keep track of produce that is going out into the community as well as Hispanic and other underserved populations within a two-mile radius although we will serve others outside of this area as well.”
Gardener and volunteer Tommy Haymore and others have found the spring was difficult with its rainfall and below normal temperatures, but the garden seems to have taken off after a second planting. He said an additional garden space was being used for potatoes this year allowing for more vegetables to be grown in the field near the church.
“The response has been good. People are so eager for corn especially. We had a few pick corn last year when it was too early,” said Haymore. “This year we will post signs telling them what’s ready to be picked.”
Reece said the garden has been a way for the church to reclaim the area agricultural heritage and a chance for neighbors to help neighbors just as they did in earlier years. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service also has been added to the mix this spring so that more resources can be offered to participants in the food ministries. There are efforts to stage healthy pot luck events at the church.
Another partner in the projects has been the Surry County Health and Nutrition Department.
Extension Agent Carmen Long said she is looking forward to offering recipes — in Spanish and English — and classes on food preparation and preservation for interested persons in the community. Earlier volunteers had recognized the need to offer English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to mothers waiting for their children in Kids Cafe.
“What excites us is that while the church historically has been good at doing for people, we are seeking to empower people. Table fellowship is such a rich form of ministry in the New Testament,” said Reece. “Jesus ate with the poor and the needy. It’s a great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.”
He said around 200 persons are served monthly at the meals which also includes meals being delivered to members and nonmembers. The church also participates with a backpack program for children.
Haymore said the church is encouraging members of the congregation to donate their extra produce to be used in the food ministries.
Reece said another ongoing project is hoping to be able to supply eggs from local chicken farmers.
“This is an effort to reach others that we wouldn’t reach otherwise,” added Long. “We have to look to other communities to make this happen. Faith-based communities are great about making this happen. We encourage other churches in the area to help as well because the need is tremendous.”
Partners in Health and Wholeness is an initiative of the North Carolina Council of Churches. PHW aims to connect health as a faith issue. Please visit our website to sign your personal pledge to be healthier, and to find out about grant opportunities for places of worship in NC.