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ELCA World Hunger

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.

Lenten Reflection 4: What Will It Take to End Hunger?


“[The vision is] that we get to invest money in our families and in our community.”

The first reading for this fourth week of Lent is from the book of Numbers. The people have been on their exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land for years, and the goal is nigh. They have received the law from God through Moses at Sinai and are now on the final leg of their journey. Yet, rather than be hopeful and eager, they are tempted by impatience (Numbers 21:4) and dissatisfied with the leadership of Moses and even their “miserable food” (Numbers 21:5). The exodus they thought would bring them to a new land has instead been a seemingly interminable journey in the wilderness. God’s response is swift and harsh: “poisonous serpents” sent by God “bit the people, so that many Israelites died” (21:6). The people repent, Moses prays andGod grants Moses a staff that will provide healing to all who are bitten.

It’s not the kindest of stories. The psalmist gives it a different sort of spin, omitting any mention of the venomous snakes and lifting up the healing of God, who heard the cries of the people and “saved them from their distress” (Psalm 107:19b).

Despite the psalmist’s sanitized take on the story, this pattern can be found throughout the story of the exodus. God rescues the people, they succumb to temptation, they repent, God shows mercy. Over and over and over.

These biblical narratives are often used to extol the merciful nature of God, who repeatedly forgives the people despite their sin. Truly, God does show mercy. But perhaps mercy is not the only lesson to be learned from the story of the people’s walk with God.

The exodus begins in Egypt, where God’s people are enslaved and oppressed. God seeks out Moses to lead the people, lays low the unjust Pharaoh and accompanies the people across the wilderness for generations, providing food, water and safety along the way, even when the going is tough and the relationship between the people and God is complicated.

Simply put, God is invested in this community. God has a vested interest in its future. The covenant inaugurated between them leaves both parties vulnerable to the other. By leading them from Egypt and entering into a covenant with them, God has tied their futures together. God has a plan and has invested much to ensure that the people are part of it. This people, this nation, is God’s future. The provisions God grants are not mere merciful gifts but further investments toward a shared future for God and the people that will become Israel.

Now, of course, the church is not God; we are spiritual descendants of the wandering Hebrews, dependent still on God’s promise of this future. Yet, perhaps there is something we can learn here about what it means to pursue a promise.

People often view the church’s work to end hunger in light of the virtues of mercy and grace. Food, clothing, shelter and donations might be interpreted as mercies showered on suffering people or as gifts given to neighbors in need. But the reality is that our response to hunger goes beyond a desire to meet immediate needs. Our response to hunger is nothing less than an investment in that shared future articulated in the tagline for ELCA World Hunger: a just world where all are fed.

What difference might it make for the hunger ministries of this church to see the work we do together as an investment in this vision?

In Washington, D.C., the Beloved Community Incubator is based on the idea of investing in the people and in the Logan Circle neighborhood. The project began with a listening campaign by Luther Place Memorial Church, with support from ELCA World Hunger. In this campaign, residents of the community expressed their desire for cooperatives that would allow them to use their skills and talents to build wealth and income that would stay in the community.

The first cooperative incubated by Luther Place was Dulce Hogar, a cooperative of women who provide cleaning services for homes and businesses. Together, the women learned how to run a business, pursue just employment and develop their own skills as leaders. As one participant describes it, “The vision of the cooperative is that all eight of us are well-paid and well-trained, and that we get to invest money in our families and in our community.”

The members of the cooperative were even paid for the times they spent in meetings and trainings. They learned together that their time and labor had value far exceeding the wages they had been offered before. And now, with an investment in them, they will be able to invest in others.

Projects such as the Beloved Community Incubator offer a counter witness to the policies and practices of disinvestment that have created communities with high rates of poverty and food insecurity across the United States. These policies and practices are rooted in the misperception that some communities are worth investing in and others are not. But the residents of Logan Circle know that, despite the challenges they face, their community is worth the investment and a better future is worth pursuing.

We know this, too, by faith. Every community is blessed by God with assets and strengths, even as the people face barriers to using or developing those assets. And we know by faith that the future we pursue together is a shared endeavor. The future God has promised is a future for us and our neighbors. We will get there together, or we will not get there at all.

To end hunger is to recognize that responding to need is a matter not of merciful intervention but of investing in a shared future and trusting that the work of God toward that end will be revealed in those very communities that the profit-driven economy so often leaves behind. If we are going to end hunger, we need to invest in one another by sharing resources, listening to each other and building the relationships that will ensure the justice God has promised.

Discussion Questions

  1. Think, share or journal about a time when someone showed you kindness and mercy. What was that like? How did it feel?
  2. Think, share or journal about a time when someone used their time, skills and/or talents to invest in your growth. What was that like? How did it feel?
  3. Now compare and contrast these two experiences — one of kindness and mercy, and one of investment. How are they different? Which experience made a more lasting impact, and why?
  4. Does your community take time to invest in the long-term growth of its neighbors? How so? If not, how might your community begin investing in others? What might that look like?
  5. Where is there a need for the kind of investment that can end hunger in your community?


Covenant God, since ancient times you have led and fed your people through many wilderness journeys. In this time, give us strength to invest your gifts in our neighbors and communities, that all might be fed. Amen.

Learn more and follow ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of giving throughout Lent by visiting

Advent 2020- Week Three Study Guide


This advent reflection is part of ELCA World Hunger’s 2020 Advent Study. You can download the full study here. You can also download the corresponding advent calendar here

Advent Week Three



Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
I Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28


Volunteering has always been the lifeblood of Cacilda Rodrigues Barcelos. Born in São Borja, Brazil, she moved at age 13 with her family to the metropolitan region of Porto Alegre. Alone, her mother raised 11 daughters and sons, until her 50th birthday, when she died. Cacilda was 22 at the time, and the community helped to support her. “People taught me how to do what I do, because I was welcomed by them,” she says.

Now 63, Cacilda has dedicated years to giving back through volunteering. Early on, she worked with young boys in the community to make and sell food at fairs to help pay for uniforms and tournaments for their soccer team. Today, as a member of the management board of the Fair Trade and Solidarity Network (a project of the diakonia foundation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil), she helps train other women in entrepreneurship and helps plan workshops and fairs where they sell their goods. She also volunteers in the Peace Service and teaches women to prevent and overcome violence.

As much as Cacilda has changed her community, the biggest change has been in her personal life. “I learned to put myself in other people’s shoes and respect each other. I was very angry, as a way to defend myself, and it was in these meetings and meetings [with other women from the Fair Trade and Solidarity Network] that I grew and improved,” she says. “That’s why I say I’m the one who gains the most.”

As common — and often justified — as anger is, it is one of those emotions that we struggle to deal with in the church, at times. We might find it difficult to place raw, tumultuous emotions within the life of the people of God. Perhaps it is one of the reasons that this season we will sing songs about the “holy infant so tender and mild” (“Silent Night”) or “that mother mild” (“Once in Royal David’s City”) while we still await the writing of an ode to Jesus’ overturning of tables in the temple. Volatile emotions, particularly in the seasons of Advent and Christmas, feel so out of place. We aren’t quite sure what to do with them.

That has made 2020 particularly hard to navigate. This year, we have lived with the grief of the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have mourned isolation from one another and the loss of that most basic human need of touch, even as we understood the risk that accompanied handshakes and hugs. We grieved together as loved ones and neighbors died alone in hospitals or nursing homes. And when we couldn’t gather together for funerals, we lost a key ritual for processing our grief as a community.

We grieved the loss of livelihoods and the closure of family businesses that had been part of our communities for generations. We feared the long-term consequences for our communities as jobs were lost and more and more people around the world went hungry.

And we were angered together by the deadly injustice of racism and the persistent inequalities that exacerbated the pandemic in many communities. Demonstrations filled streets in cities large and small as a collective voice of rage was raised against a racist justice system that continues to disproportionately permit and even sanction extrajudicial killings of people of color.

Certainly, our hope rests in that just peace (shalom) that “surpasses all human understanding,” which will “wipe away every tear from our eyes” and bring such equity and harmony that the lion will lie down with the lamb and the child will play with the viper and not be harmed. But there are times when it is difficult to see this promise through the lens of overwhelming grief and righteous anger. And there are times when grief and anger are what we need to move us toward justice, which is the form of the love of neighbor takes in society. For many of us, 2020 was one of those times.

The promise of Advent is not merely the promise of a future when all shall be made well, when all grief and anger shall cease and when the weight of heavy emotions shall be lifted from our shoulders. The promise of Advent — or, perhaps, the comfort of Advent — is that, amid our grief and anger, God is present, walking with us, consoling us, inspiring us and prodding us to walk together toward the future
where justice and peace will kiss (Psalm 85:10).

The future day promised by Isaiah in this week’s reading is a promise not to those who are comfortable but to those who are afflicted. In “the year of the Lord’s favor,” God will “provide for those who mourn in Zion — to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning” (Isaiah 61:2-3). It is a promise that those whose burdens have left them with a “faint spirit” will be given the strength of “oaks” and that God will “cause righteousness and praise to spring up” like the first plants of spring (61:11). It is a promise that God, who “loves justice,” (61:8) will establish the same — and an invitation for us to be part of this.

Perhaps that is the reassurance of the Scripture readings for this week. The grief and anger that have marked so much of this year — and that mark so much of every year for many of us living in vulnerability to disease, injustice, hunger and violence — is where God meets us. We need not gather the strength to move on nor ignore the depth of our pain in order to find God. God finds us in these depths.

Cacilda, working tirelessly with neighbors in Brazil, was able to let go of her anger and felt herself changed by the experience. But God did not wait for that moment to work transformation and renewal through her. Indeed, it may be through this very tumult that God moves us toward greater actions of justice. Christ did not wait for a comfortable bed but was born in the sharp, chafing, ill-fitting manger, amid the noise of the animals and the loneliness of the stable. We need not wait to be comfortable, for our grief to resolve or our anger to subside, in order to draw close to God.

God has been there all along.


  1. What caused you to mourn or angered you this year?
  2. How does God meet you amid your grief and anger?
  3. How can the transformation of our grief or anger help spur us to
    deeper acts in service of one another or in service of God?
  4. What would a just peace (shalom) look like in your community?
    In the United States?


Comforting and empowering God, you meet us amid our pain and ease the load of our burdens. Be near us in our grief and anger, comfort us as we mourn and move our will toward acts of justice for one another. Grant the world just peace this season, that we may find rest and hope in you. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.


Advent Study Series: Movers and Shakers (Week 3)


Week 3: Movers and Shakers


Have you ever thought of the “movers and shakers” in your community? This is one collective term we often use to describe the people we think of as powerful, important or effective in their leadership. Perhaps they have enough money to buy whatever they want or need. Perhaps they have a seat at important tables where decisions are made. Perhaps they have friends in high places or are in positions of influence.

These are the people who “keep the world turning.” At least, that’s what most of us think.

The Gospel reading this week describes John the Baptist encountering people sent by the Pharisees as a sort of screening committee, checking his references and reviewing his qualifications for ministry. “Are you Elijah?” they ask. “Are you the prophet?” (John 1:21). John the Baptist replies in the negative. He is simply a camel-hair wearing, locust-eating “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” (John 1:23). Yet, this “voice” is one of the most important the people can hear at that moment. The questioners go away dissatisfied; clearly, this crazed man does not have the pedigree it takes to be baptizing and preaching.

Pharisees often get a bad rap in Christian Scripture and history, though they were devout Jews, who believed sincerely in God’s law and God’s promises. Until the middle of the first century, they were known for their ministry among the people in what might have been called the working class of Palestine. Like John the Baptist and other Jews, they knew what Isaiah has prophesied about “good news to the oppressed” (61:1) and “the year of the Lord’s favor” (61:2).

The problem wasn’t that they didn’t believe, or worse, that they didn’t want release for those held captive. The problem was that they didn’t believe God would choose to announce this through a person who wasn’t a “mover or shaker” in the Jewish world.

Yet, the people God chooses to work through in Scripture are often not the people we see as successful, powerful and important. They are tax collectors, shepherds, fishermen, women, craftspeople and even former criminals who would barely merit a second glance in the temple – unless of course, the temple authorities wanted to throw them out.

Yet God lifts them up as disciples, prophets, rulers and priests.

So often, our attention is focused in the wrong places, and we miss what God is working on in our midst. Our eyes are on people with wealth, power and influence – at least, the kind of wealth, power and influence our culture deems worthwhile – and we can fail to see the transformation God is enacting in the overlooked spots in our communities. While the Pharisees were looking for salvation in other places, a poor young woman from an unimportant town was carrying a child that would announce the Advent of Isaiah’s promise.

As many of us look to the traditional centers of power for signs that the world is turning, the world is already turning in our communities. In Minneapolis, youth participating in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church’s Young Leaders Program are taking part in the transformation of their community through art, gardening and entrepreneurship. The word “youth” often implies negative stereotypes – too young, too unruly, too childish. But at St. Paul’s, the community knows that “youth” often means creative, intelligent and motivated leadership – the kind of leadership that can change a community for the better.

Their world is turning because God is working through youth and adults who know that real power is not always found in the places we expect. Their work is supported in part by ELCA World Hunger.

While Advent is a season of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises, the Gospel of John, the prophecy of Isaiah and the song of Mary (Luke 1:46b-55) invite us to recognize that God is already at work, “moving and shaking,” in communities our stereotypes about power might make us overlook.

Reflection questions

  1. What does it mean to have power? Who has power in your community?
  2. How have we acted as “screening committees,” denying the worth of the people God might work through in our community or church? How can we remain open to God at work among and through everyone we meet?
  3. What are some ways that our congregation can be part (or is part!) of the transformation God is enacting in our community?


God of all our hopes, we wait with expectation for the coming of your son into the world. Forgive us for the ways in which we have been blinded to your presence by worldly wealth and success. As we long for Christmas Day, keep our eyes open to your presence in our midst – in one another, in our neighbors, in the people at our doors. Open our hearts to receive the promise you reveal to us through each other and all creation. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.

Hymn suggestions

Unexpected and Mysterious ELW 258

All Earth is Hopeful ELW 266

My Soul Does Magnify the Lord ELW 882


To download this entire study, or to see some of our other congregational resources, please visit

Advent Study 2017

Top Fall Tips for “Growing” Your Community Garden





Community gardens are a great way to build community and provide nutritious food for your congregation and your neighbors. This week, ELCA World Hunger is grateful to welcome Ed Merrell as a guest blogger to offer his expert tips for community gardeners as we move into the fall and winter. Ed is an Independent Seeds Professional. He engages with seed-centric charity organizations and other agricultural groups. In this capacity, he applies his extensive seed industry skills and experience to provide relevant information and solutions.

His 35+ year career in the vegetable and flower seed industry included plant breeding to develop new and improved varieties, domestic and international seed production, quality assurance and seed testing, seed processing plant operation, and quality information systems. Ed is a member of Advent Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Morgan Hill, Calif.

If you are planning a new garden or growing an existing garden, ELCA World Hunger’s Community Gardens How-To Guide is a great resource to help! It has practical advice and suggestions from community gardeners across the ELCA, along with resources for tying your congregation’s garden to your worship life through prayer and education.

Download ELCA World Hunger’s Community Gardens How-To Guide:;

Order a free printed copy:

For community gardens, autumn is a productive time. If your congregation already has a community garden, activities could include finishing the harvest and assessing the gardening year. Or, if your congregation is thinking about creating a community garden, it could be a good time to start planning.

  1. Review the Past Season

Congregations with established community gardens can consider updating their garden map showing what crop was grown where and how productive each crop was. If you sowed seed, did it germinate well? Were pest problems observed such as soil-borne organisms like cutworms, flying insects, or animals? Were preventative actions taken and what were the results? Did any plant diseases occur? All the information you gather can be added to your previous community garden experience in that location and will help you plan for next year.


  1. Tap Local Expertise

If you have not already connected to a source of local gardening expertise, consider contacting the County Cooperative Extension office or the Master Gardener organization.  These experts share firsthand knowledge of local growing conditions, vegetable varieties adapted to your area, fertilization and watering recommendations, and pests and how to control them.

  1. Update Your Planting Plan

Use your garden maps from previous seasons to plan crop rotation and avoid planting the same vegetable in the same space. A 3-year rotation plan is often recommended. Crop rotation reduces the likelihood of diseases on next year’s plants and promotes healthy soil. If you have remnant seed of a variety that germinated well and yielded tasty produce, you may want to sow that same seed again next season. By storing the seed packets in a cool, dry place, you preserve the seed viability and improve the chances that the seed will germinate well next year.

  1. Re-vision and Re-imagine

Successful community gardens start with a vision. As you plan for next season, ask these questions. Is the community garden fulfilling the vision statement that you wrote? Does it meet a community need? Is the congregation support sufficient in terms of volunteers and financial resources? The next few months are a good time to consider these questions and assess what worked well, what needs to be improve, and make plans for next year.

  1. Get Started!

If your congregation is discerning whether to create a community garden, the ELCA World Hunger Community Gardens How-To Guide (download:; order printed copy: is a great place to begin.  In autumn, planting time seems far away. But it’s never too early to start creating a community garden. As the guide describes, understanding your community’s needs and assets and the capacity of your congregation to create a vision for your garden will take time.  Are there some experienced gardeners willing to share their expertise? Can you make this an intergenerational activity? There are tasks for everyone from young children sowing bean seeds to adults building raised beds to seniors sharing their recipes for fresh produce. In addition, you will need some funding and some land for your garden.

planting young shoots

  1.  Keep Costs Down

Raised beds, an irrigation system, garden tools, etc. for your new community garden can cost money. To keep expenses under control, look for websites like,, or other sites where people offer for free what they don’t need or ask for what they want. has free offers too. Reduce, reuse, and recycle helps everyone and preserves God’s creation.

  1. Find Good Quality Seeds and Young Plants

Selecting good quality seeds and young plants is critical to success. Seeds labeled “Packed for year 20__” or “Sell by mm/yy” should be sown during that year or before the sell-by date. Store seeds in cool, dry conditions to preserve viability. Young plants should be free of disease (discolored leaves or stems) and free of insects (worms, aphids, etc.)

  1. Find Partners

Consider reaching out to other faith communities and ask if they would like to help your congregation start a community garden. The opportunity for people of faith to work side-by-side planning, growing and nurturing, and harvesting a community garden can build lasting relationships.

Gardening is enjoyable in every season!  Get started today!






Carpooling — Coming Soon to Your Church?

Carpooling – Coming Soon to Your Church?

Sharing the driving responsibilities by participating in a carpool can reduce stress, build stronger relationships with carpool friends, reduce commuting costs, and help traffic flow more smoothly by reducing the number of cars on the road.  Carpooling can also be an everyday act of faith, in modifying your lifestyle to better care for God’s creation.  The logistics are often challenging however  – where can you leave your car when it’s not your turn to drive?  Does it take more time to pick everyone up at home than it’s worth?

Identifying a central meeting point for carpoolers can simplify the logistics.  Does your congregation have a large parking lot that sits mostly empty during weekdays?  If so, you have just identified a potentially perfect carpool meeting point!   Of course, you will need to get the blessing from your church council and pastor.  Wouldn’t it be great if your little patch of asphalt could be put to good use, build stronger connections between church members, AND better care for God’s creation?

 It may be a good idea to identify specific areas of the parking lot for carpoolers, and make sure the church office has contact information so they can reach carpoolers if needed. 

If you decide to pursue this idea, I’d be interested in feedback on how it went.   My husband has been carpooling for several years – he and a co-worker take turns driving every other week – and it has worked well.  I’m sure they each appreciate a week off from the driving when they can read, check emails, or even catch a little extra sleep!  We are saving money on commuting costs as his car is used about 50% less than it used to be.   That’s been particularly nice as Chicago gas prices have stayed about $3/gallon or more.

Are you ready to give it a try?  Now would be a perfect time to connect with co-workers from church to see if your schedules can be aligned.  Let’s try practicing our faith in a non-conventional way – carpooling!

Erin Cummisford