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From Pews to Plates: How one church is combating hunger

St. John’s Episcopal Church in Johnstown, New York, has been serving its community through food programs for over 30 years. In 2014, the church purchased an adjacent building, the former city YMCA at One Church Street, for $80,000 to expand these programs and make them accessible to people with disabilities. This expansion project initially estimated at $1.5 million has now exceeded $3 million, primarily due to the rising costs of construction materials.

The church, with an average Sunday attendance of about 100, has raised $2 million so far through donations from parishioners, community members, and local businesses and foundations. This funding has been used for initial renovations, including new windows, a security system, and an accessible entrance, and is currently supporting the renovation of the first floor.

The church’s food programs, crucial in a county where nearly 15% of the population lives below the poverty line, provided 44,000 meals in 2022. The next phase of the project includes converting the second-floor ballroom into a dining room and commercial kitchen, installing an elevator, and creating a multipurpose community space. To raise the remaining $1 million, the church has launched a “space mission” campaign, seeking 1,000 donors to contribute $1,000 each.

Rev. Laurie Garramone, the church’s rector, has adopted creative fundraising methods, including wearing an astronaut suit to attract attention and connect with the community. The church’s efforts are driven by its mission to meet the physical, ethical, practical, and spiritual needs of its community through access to nutritious food, embodying its vision of the kingdom of God on Earth.

The Episcopal News Service reports:

“We signed the paperwork on Dec. 20, and the next day we put a red bow over the door of the building with a huge gift tag,” the Rev. Laurie Garramone, the church’s rector for the past 13 years, told Episcopal News Service.

Since then, an initial renovation plan estimated at $1.5 million has increased to more than $3 million, largely fueled by increases in the cost of construction materials that began during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, early on church leaders decided not to have the church take on any debt for this, so renovations are taking place only when funds are available to cover costs.

So far, the church – which has an average Sunday attendance of about 100 – has raised $2 million, all of it given by parishioners, community members, and local businesses and foundations. And Garramone said plans to raise the final $1 million have begun.

While the thought of eventually having raised more than $3 million still amazes her, Garramone said as someone with virtually no fundraising experience, she along with her congregation have simply been doing their best to live out what together they see as God’s calling to serve others.

“We know that to feed people who articulate a need for food creates an expansive vision of the kingdom of God as it is lived out here on Earth, and specifically in Johnstown, New York,” she said. “Access to good, nutritious food is a physical, ethical, practical and spiritual necessity, and our prayer is that we are meeting the needs of our guests in each of those ways.”

Read the full article.

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