Skip to content

ELCA Blogs

A Year Like No Other


St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church’s Lunchtime Ministry offers a warm meal, hospitality and community to neighbors in Hoboken, New Jersey. This important work is supported in part by a Domestic Hunger Grant from ELCA World Hunger. Stanley Enzweiler is the Program Manager of St. Matthew Trinity’s Lunchtime Ministry and has worked with the ministry since 2016. In this post, Stanley reflects on the uncertainty and stress the community faced in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic – and on the hope, hard work and perseverance that has kept Lunchtime Ministry going. You can read a previous post from Stanley here.

March 16th, 2020, I didn’t want to open the door. The guests, I knew, were crowded outside, ready to rush in, grab a seat, and line up for coffee. They were expecting a long, leisurely morning with steaming cups of soup served to their tables by volunteers who knew their names. At Lunchtime Ministry (LTM), a soup kitchen/drop-in center in the heart of Hoboken, New Jersey, everything is free: the coffee, the wifi, the laughter, and the community. Today, all that was about to change.

I unlocked the door. “Hang on, everyone,” I said. “You have to come in one at a time. Wash your hands, and then I will give you a bagged lunch. We’re serving everything to go.”

For years, LTM had been a pillar of stability in people’s lives. We were open every Monday to Thursday, holidays and blizzards be darned. Some of our guests had gone through the same routine every day for years.

But that weekend in March 2020, the country had shut down around us. A new world had arrived. The virus could be anywhere.  Masks were not yet required, and people argued about whether gloves did any good. Instead of saying “Goodbye,” we told each other to “Stay safe.”

LTM was shutting down too. Our priority was keeping each other healthy—but avoiding COVID was just part of the picture. It was cold outside, and our guests had nowhere to go.  Some of them stopped coming to LTM, and I still don’t know where they ended up.  One woman sat down on the floor in front of the coffee machine and refused to leave.

We worked with the Hoboken Shelter and the local welfare office to lodge some of our older and less healthy guests in hotel rooms. As much as this helped space out our homeless population, several of our hotel guests continued to come to LTM every morning. That’s how much our community mattered.

As the summer went by, we borrowed an idea pioneered by some restaurants in Hoboken and opened up our own strEATery: outdoor tables and chairs where guests could sit together and enjoy to-go food. This gave us back a taste of the community we had missed so much. In Autumn, we began reopening for volunteers and asking our community to donate hot dishes, which we served in to-go cups.  And when temperatures dropped, we opened back up inside. We have limited our capacity in accordance with statewide regulations, and we have continued to enforce hand-washing, masks, and social distancing. Of course, it is much more work serving people inside than providing food to go, but having our community back has been worth it.

We have worked closely with other local services, including the Hoboken Shelter, the city’s food pantries, and the county’s clinics. We have provided our guests, volunteers, and community members with onsite flu shots, health screenings, and, this spring, over 150 COVID-19 vaccines. Individuals, schools, restaurants and spas from across the country have overwhelmed us with their support, donating food, hygiene items and money; spreading the word about LTM; and providing moral support. At least once a week, I hear from a former volunteer who wants to say hello and see how they can help.


This has been a year like no other. We are not used to thinking on our feet and changing things up at LTM, especially not when lives hang in the balance. But everyone has had to adapt this year, and through it all, LTM has continued to be there for our guests. We have provided as many services as we can while keeping our population healthy.

Who knows what the next steps will be?  Regardless, we’ll take them.

God’s work through the guests, volunteers and community members at LTM still continues – and continues to thrive! As of April 2021, over 500 vaccines have been distributed through LTM and its partners. With more community members protected, LTM has been able to offer more events at its site, including screenings for HIV, blood pressure, and glucose levels, haircuts for guests, assistance signing up for health insurance and housing, and fundraisers to keep the ministry going.


Seeing Things Differently


From the story of Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit – as told in Acts 2: 17:

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your songs and daughters shall prophesy, and your young shall see visions, and your old shall dream dreams.”


The walk to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-25) is a fairly “well-trodden” path for many Christians. It’s a story we hear once a year in the lectionary cycle – a story that comes together so well for me at the end when Jesus has vanished from the disciple’s sight – and yet, they “see” in a new and different way.

“Were not out hearts burning within us?” the disciples say to each other. Through the walking and talking, they caught a glimpse of God’s dream for a reconciled world – perhaps such a glimpse that the whole world might never look the same.

October 16, was World Food Day, a day that also occurs once a year to commemorate the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1945.

On World Food Day this year, ELCA World Hunger announced our upcoming Big Dream grant ministry partners – a group of four ministries that exemplify innovation and best practices in the pursuit of a just world where all are fed.

At the same time, 14 people gathered to discern and award the 2020 Domestic Hunger grants. Domestic Hunger Grants walk with congregations and their ministry partners as they seek to love and serve their communities in transformative, holistic and integrated ways. The awards are for up to 3 years and up to $10,000 per year, for a possible total award of $30,000. During this process, staff like me are notetakers. My role is to listen and record (a true gift!)

And on days like this, as we walk together in conversation, you hear many things. But the one that stays with me today is from one of our decision makers at the table who said, “I will need some help deciding on award amounts. I am 17 years old. It’s hard for me to imagine $30,000. I have never seen that much money in my life!”

The group gathered chuckled a bit, but then … we paused.

Think about it.

When was the first time you could conceptualize or understand what $30,000 really meant? When did you first “see” that kind of money? Or, have you ever??

Around the room, people said, “when I went to college,” “when we bought a house,” “when I got a car,” or “when I saw a medical bill.” For many, the first time we had “seen” $30,000 was as debt.

And yet, others reflected, “Living on $30,000 a year isn’t easy, either.”

Though it is can be difficult to live on $30,0000 in a context like the United States, an annual income of $30,000 (USD) puts a person in the top 1.23% of richest people in the world (Global Rich List). $30,000 is an amount that many or even most of our global neighbors may never actually see.

And for our high school senior-aged award table member, if all goes according to her plan and she completes college, she may join the ranks of the 45 million people in this country carrying a total of $1.5 trillion in student loan debt (more than what Americans owe in credit card and auto loan debt combined.)

And in that moment, through the community gathered, I saw things differently.

Faith formation and leadership development are intentional, experiential moments found and honed in and with community – like the one gathered together on October 16.

What would it be like if most youth and young people in this church, the ELCA, first “see” or try to conceptualize $30,000 represented by the hopes and dreams and plans of program budgets put forth by courageous, creative congregations seeking to love and serve their neighbors and neighborhoods through anti-hunger work? And not as debt— which is what the world will almost surely present without the alternative.

What type of leaders would be in our midst if more leaders – of all ages – can catch these glimpses that may essentially change the way we see the world around us? How might not only our expectations change, but our communities, relationships and stewardship change too?

At that table gathered, $30,000 looked like a ministry working with neighbors toward equitable access to food through community gardening and land ownership or like community-led advocacy and capacity building to improve access to safe water in a region dealing with lead pipe infrastructure issues.

God creates and gifts diversely and abundantly – and we are freed by grace through faith to boldly discover and wonder what God is up to and how we can be part of that in service with our neighbors and neighborhoods. Faith is a living daring confidence in God’s grace.

As people of faith, we are called to see things differently because of who God is – and to help others catch a glimpse of it too.

God’s gracious abundance opens our eyes to the presence of God among us, freeing us to see visions and dream dreams. And by being church together – through the Spirit – those visions and dreams set our hearts on fire.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while [Jesus] was talking to us on the road?” (Luke 24: 23)


Mikka McCracken is Director, Strategy and Engagement for ELCA World Hunger.

Photo Credit: Cheri Johnson


ELCA World Hunger Domestic Hunger Grants Now Available!

The application for Domestic Hunger Grants for 2018-2019 is now open! The Domestic Hunger Grants program supports ministries that accompany people who experience poverty and hunger in the communities across the United States and Caribbean. These grants do more than just give food to people who are hungry – in addition to immediate relief programs, ELCA World Hunger Domestic Hunger Grants fund projects in advocacy, community development, community-based organizing and relief that strengthen the foundations of communities affected by hunger and poverty.

In 2017, this program allocated a total of $691,810 to support 347 domestic projects and programs ranging from congregational food pantries to urban farms, job training and living-wage advocacy campaigns. ELCA World Hunger-funded Domestic Hunger Grants make a difference.

Domestic Hunger Grants support a wide variety of ministries connected to ELCA congregations and groups, from food pantries to job programs for youth, and from community gardens to programs addressing food waste. If you are looking to seed, grow, or nurture a new or existing program, consider applying today!

All applications must be postmarked no later than June 30, 2017, to be considered for funding in 2018 and 2019. You can find the application online at

Here are just a few examples of programs supported in part by Domestic Hunger Grants in 2016 and 2017:

Manna from Heaven – Myra, Kentucky

This food pantry in the heart of Appalachia provides nutritious food and clothing to more than 250 people each month, in an area where access to food and social services is hard to come by. In partnership with Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Cincinnati, Ohio, Manna distributes 10,000-15,000 pounds of food each month. Their Domestic Hunger Grant helps fund the delivery of this food from Cincinnati to Myra.

Young Leaders Program – St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

In a community marked by contrasts – the most community gardens and the highest rate of pollution in the city – St. Paul’s Young Leaders Program works with youth ages 11-15 to help them develop their skills to be the leaders of today and tomorrow. Youth work on projects ranging from city beautification to arts to community engagement. With support from the community at St. Paul’s, the Young Leaders are making their mark on their neighborhood – and experiencing a welcoming community where their talents are valued and nurtured.

Table Grace Café – Omaha, Nebraska

At Table Grace Cafe, anyone who walks through the door is served a nutritious meal, even if they don’t have the money to pay. People who eat there are asked to pay what they can or to donate their time. But more than that, the staff at Table Grace Café don’t just serve food, they listen to the people who come in, they hear their stories, and they try to help in other ways, including through their job training program.

Christ the King Deaf Church – West Chester, Pennsylvania

Christ the King Deaf Church accompanies neighbors who face vulnerability to hunger in complex, interrelated ways and yet are under-served by other agencies, including immigrants and refugees with hearing and vision impairments, people in prison who are deaf, and neighbors who are both deaf and blind. Christ the King Deaf Church offers communication and mobility assistance, case management, visits to the Graterford correctional facility, literacy and life-skills mentoring, and advocacy. In addition, the church provides the opportunity for the clients accompanied by these services to exercise their leadership of the programs through participation on an advisory committee or church council.

ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grants Also Available!

If you or your congregation, synod or organization is considering an event or program to help folks learn about hunger, poverty and how our faith calls us to respond to both, you may be eligible for an ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grant. More information can be found at


Shobi’s Table – St. Paul, Minnesota

Fellowship, a nutritious meal, and a time of prayer are offered weekly at Shobi’s Table – a food truck that serves people experiencing homelessness in St. Paul, Minn. Meet the team at Shobi’s Table as they feed and are fed by sisters and brothers in St. Paul. This ministry is supported in part by ELCA World Hunger.