“Grace Grocery” Celebrates National Hunger Action Month

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Kathy Perpetua serves clients at Crozet UMC’s Grace Grocery. Submitted photo.

With an estimated 133 billion pounds of good food thrown away this year, why should anyone go hungry? Yet more than 40 million of our population are either hungry or are uncertain whether they’ll have enough food to last through the month. Those are statistics released for National Hunger Action Month to draw attention to the problem throughout the country. The national network of food banks as well as community charities work to match hungry people with excess food.

One extensive local effort is by the Crozet United Methodist Church. Volunteers there have worked for 35 years to provide healthy meals for their western Albemarle families. Established as a way to help feed some folks around town who seemed to be homeless, the service has grown to distribute more than 30,000 pounds of food a year, finding ways to offer a good selection of healthy food to more than 300 western Albemarle families. Long-time supporters are the Crozet Farmers Market, the Innisfree gardeners, the Post Office food drives, local middle school canned food drives, Scout troops, the Crozet Lions Club and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

As of September 1, the church has renamed its important food ministry Grace Grocery. 

“We’ve thought about this for a while,” said long-time volunteer Diana Pace. “Our primary motive is to make it more welcoming to clients, more of a community resource than a place you go because you don’t have enough money for food.” By removing the stigma, the church hopes to reach more people who fall through the cracks. That’s because experience has taught them that the established poverty level ($25,100 for a family of four) falls short of what’s needed to feed a real-life working family.  

To address this discrepancy, church members feed deserving local people who have incomes too high to qualify for federal assistance like SNAP, WIC, or free lunches at school, but who struggle to buy enough to eat. This includes older people, disabled and retired, who are on fixed incomes and cannot recover from an emergency; or families who have been joined suddenly by additional family members down on their luck, and unable to stretch their budget enough to accommodate the extra mouths to feed. There are also young semi-homeless people, without families, who stay out of sight, living in cars or on the couches of friends. And sometimes, Pace said, the church is given cleaning products and paper goods, products that don’t qualify for any of the public food assistance programs.

The church has won the trust of the community by distributing only quality food and by offering clients the freedom to choose the food they need, a practice that avoids waste as well as acknowledging the individual tastes and health requirements of each client. Pace said the clients are thrilled when they can grab fresh produce, frozen meat or shelf-stable staples. Recently, she said, the Society of St. Andrew, which specializes in gleaning leftovers from already harvested fields and excess from commercial shipments, gave the food bank a mountain of nectarines that were very well received. 

One Saturday a month, the church distributes USDA food, which does require financial information. Pace said all the Monday shoppers at Grace Grocery need to do is to sign in.

In return, clients avoid waste by bringing their own containers and bags. Another anti-waste measure: If any donated food is in less than good condition, it finds its way into compost courtesy of Black Bear compost.

Grace Grocery offers weekly food distribution each Monday (3:15 – 5:45 p.m.), and also offers USDA food distribution on the third Saturday of each month (7:15-9 a.m). Volunteers from the community are always welcome, regardless of their affiliation, as are donations of fresh food from local farmers and gardeners.                    

Kids, Teens, Screens and the Brain

An honest, interactive community look at the meaning and long-term consequences of the many screens dominating modern family life will be presented Sept. 19 in the Henley Middle School Cafeteria. Although this event was facilitated by Hope Presbyterian Church, it is but a community forum open to all, not a church event. 

Laura Johnson, who arranged the discussion, said she wants those attending to help each other with ideas about the presence of screens in our lives. “I don’t want this to be a gathering designed to make parents feel guilty, or to focus on what we are presently doing in our family’s lives,” she said. “I think it helps to involve the wider community in this important discussion rather than researching at home by ourselves.” Johnson said she’d like it to be an ongoing conversation, where parents can find some support and ideas for the decisions they make after examining the issues.

Community conversation will examine role of screens in young lives Sept. 19. Photo: Theresa Curry.

Johnson found there was a powerful resource nearby in Peter Schmidt, a veteran family counselor who has researched and written extensively on the topic. Schmidt examines the issue in his two books: How Did Love Become a Reality Show? The Destruction of Intimacy in a Culture Built on Image, and Between Stimulus and Response: What Parents Need to Know About Electronic Screens and Kids. He is also a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage & family therapist, and certified substance abuse counselor in Virginia.

Schmidt, who has been a counselor for more than 26 years, said he began to see effects of popular media more than a decade ago. “I had a couple in counseling who had expectations of each other based on what they’d seen on television and in the movies,” he said. In counseling, he found that the couple was so influenced by made-up stereotypes that they couldn’t connect with each other.

Peter Schmidt

With his knowledge of human behavior, he examined the expanding phenomenon of kids and screens. “I started 12 years ago by thinking theoretically of what I might see in children down the line,” he said. Sure enough, the results were as he expected: the hijacking of attention and the response to stimuli mimicking other addictive behavior. He compared the now well-documented attraction to screens to our attraction to sugar, a substance with no nutritional value but with a powerful response in the brain’s reward center. 

Although there are plenty of concerns about the content of the virtual worlds our children inhabit, Schmidt said the main focus will be on the medium itself, including an explanation of how screen use in children affects executive function, a very important area of brain development. Schmidt said he looks forward to the questions and experiences of the attendees, and the whole evening will be interactive.

Kids, Screens, Teens and the Brain will begin at 7 p.m. Sept. 19 at Henley Middle School Cafeteria. 

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