The Hunger and Health Coalition is an organization committed to addressing the needs of vulnerable people in Watauga County, North Carolina through pharmacy and food assistance. This year, their work is assisted by an ELCA Domestic Hunger Grant and a partnership with Grace Lutheran Church in Boone.
“We’ve been working on our fresh food initiative for several years, and that’s what we received a Domestic Hunger Grant for,” says Ben Loomis, Grants and Programs Manager. “There’s a stereotype with food pantries that people are getting low-quality food that is low in nutritional value, and that you don’t get very much of it either. We’ve been working to reverse that, both because of feedback from our clients and to support the awesome local food economy that we have up here.”
Over the past six years, the Hunger and Health Coalition has steadily increased the amount of fresh produce they distribute to clients in Watauga County, where approximately 20% of children are food insecure. At the same time, they have increased the amount of local produce they purchase from small farmers. They are now the leading purchaser from High Country Food Hub, a centralized seller for over 70 local farmers and food entrepreneurs. “The ELCA grant is helping in two directions,” says Ben, “by supporting local food producers in our economy, which makes our food system more resilient, and also helping our clients receive food that is more nutritious with high quality produce.”
The organization takes a holistic approach to health and hunger. Ben says, “We try to make sure the food we’re distributing goes along with our goals as a charitable pharmacy. When we’re helping people with diabetes get their medicine, we’re trying to make the food part of that medicine as well.”
This connected focus on individual health and nutrition, as well as larger food systems, makes the Hunger and Health Coalition a great fit for the ELCA Domestic Hunger Grants, which prioritize ministries that are transformative, holistic, and integrated.
Grace Lutheran was the sponsoring congregation for the grant application. “The Hunger and Health Coalition is one of the few places people can go for assistance and receive fresh food,” says Pastor Stephen Troisi. “We support their work however we can.”
Pastor Stephen says that the partnership between Grace and the Health and Hunger Coalition is deep and longstanding. “We do volunteer work and fundraising for them, in addition to running a whole branch of their ministry with the wood lot,” he says. The wood lot at the Hunger and Health Coalition is a project run by Grace Builders, a ministry of Grace, where hundreds of people receive free firewood for cooking and heating their homes.
“We love working with our faith communities,” says Ben. “Grace Lutheran is a great example of the way that churches help us put long-term community focuses into place. Working with an organization as deeply embedded in the community as they are means that we can do so much more and we can provide unique programs, like the wood lot. It shows how those communities help us really gear our services to the specific needs in our area. We couldn’t help as many people as we do without our local faith communities.”
ELCA World Hunger Domestic Hunger Grants accompany congregations and their partners throughout the United States and the Caribbean as they draw on the strengths of communities to address local issues such as food security, clean water, housing, job readiness, human rights, policy change, leadership development and more. Together, these ministries are part of a comprehensive approach to breaking the cycle of poverty and hunger—for good. Applications for this next cycle of grants open on April 19, 2021. Learn more.