The Black Mountain Presbyterian Church fights food insecurity

(PNS) – When Margo Smith thinks of Black Mountain Presbyterian Church’s commitment to addressing food insecurity and other needs of the western North Carolina community, she is reminded of an engraving inside the church’s sanctuary.

“The words engraved on our communion table outside the sanctuary are ‘Were all fed?’ That message is why I joined BMPC,” said Smith. “It’s hard to feel satisfied when we’re constantly reminded that service is our mission.”

BMPC, located in the town of Black Mountain, about 15 miles from Asheville, North Carolina, is among more than 100 churches that have earned the distinction of being named Hunger Action Congregations of the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP).

Churches like Black Mountain that are active in six areas can become certified HACs (More information can be found here. Deadline is September.) These areas are hunger alleviation, foreign aid, hunger awareness, lifestyle integrity, corporate and public policy witness and worship.

“The Hunger Action Congregation process celebrates the faithful work of Presbyterians across the country in responding to the biblical call to alleviate hunger and end its causes,” notes PHP on the HAC website. “Through stories and encouragement, we want to inspire one another to provide broader and more equitable ministries.”

The fight against hunger has been a major concern of the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church for many years. The church, which is also an Earth Care Congregation, is in an area where housing prices can present hardship for those with just a few dollars left after paying for a place to live.

“Even if you live in Montreat or parts of Black Mountain, which are very beautiful areas, you can’t drive into town and not realize there is need everywhere,” said Smith, a longtime member of the missions committee that chairs the Strategic Planning Committee leads and is also present at the meeting. “You are not isolated from the need in the community.”

Much of the work that BMPC does is done through collaboration with various groups and religious organizations in the region, which has several active denominations.

Teens take part in a program to feed families on Thanksgiving. (Photo courtesy of Black Mountain Presbyterian Church)

“It’s hard to find someone who isn’t involved in social action,” Smith said. “We’ve got a concentration of good old Calvinist Presbyterian folk, and you know, service to humanity is service to God.”

One of the ways BMPC is involved is by supporting Bounty and Soul, a local organization dedicated to providing nutritious nutrition and wellness education, and the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, which provides crisis services run by a pantry to ancillary services.

“We have had a close connection with both of these organizations from the beginning of the organization and throughout all things that have happened since, including Covid,” Smith said.

Bounty and Soul, a nonprofit partner of BMPC founded by Ali Casparian, shares hundreds of boxes of local groceries with the community each week at their free fresh markets.

“We believe our community is at the center of everything we do, and so participating in this movement together helps us better reach a broader range of our neighbors,” said Karla Gardner, director of community engagement at Bounty and Soul. “As a whole, our community can thrive and be healthy (and) connected when we all work together.”

One way that’s happening is through volunteers from BMPC, Gardner said. “Volunteers are a crucial part of our work to continue sharing food with our community. In the last two years alone, our community has doubled during Covid. Not only are we sourcing record amounts of food, but we also need the support of volunteers to keep things moving.”

BMPC also helps support Christian ministry in the Swannanoa Valley, whether that be through member volunteerism, collecting canned goods, participating in fundraisers, adopting families for the holidays or providing furniture for transitional housing, said Executive Director Cheryl Wilson who also happens to be a BMPC member and ruling elder.

Black Mountain is “a very, very committed church with ministry that we’re so grateful for,” Wilson said. The church is three to four blocks away, “so it’s very close by, and there’s a lot of retired Presbyterian pastors — my father’s one — and missionaries, and so the hands and feet and the heart are for others, I think, just ingrained in so many that are part of our community and that just helps us teach that to our boys.”

Another way BMPC is active in the community and fighting hunger is through garden projects.

“We have a community garden where people get plots and create their own plots,” and a portion of the produce goes to Bounty and Soul, Smith said. Additionally, “we have an ecumenical garden with the Baptist Church across the street from us,” which also helps provide produce to the congregation.

Other projects BMPC is involved with are youth making Thanksgiving baskets and there is a preschool program that includes a garden and composting and farm-to-table snacks.

The church also participates in advocacy efforts such as Bread for the World letter campaigns and assists the western North Carolina presbytery in efforts such as paying off medical debts.

“Black Mountain Presbyterian is doing so many great things to help end hunger and poverty in all six areas as a certified Hunger Action Congregation,” said Andrew Kang Bartlett, PHP national staffer. “But remember, no matter the size of your church, every act and ministry you do to end suffering and injustice reflects Christian compassion and the healing power of God flowing through us.”

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

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