Food Should Not Be an Either/Or Proposition

by | Nov 9, 2023

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Hebrews 13:2-9

For many migrants, food is not a given. That harsh realization during the pandemic was the catalyst for the creation of Food Justice DMV (FJDMV). It began when an immigrant seeking asylum spent money to pay for transportation to an ICE check-in that could have been used for his family’s food. When local powerhouse, Denise Woods, learned of this, she gathered forces to create a mission to make sure that food security would not be an either/or proposition. In three years plus, FJDMV has delivered food justice “in a bag” to 720,994 neighbors and raised more than $1,327,529 for food, diapers and baby formula. Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Washington are strong supporters and provide precious space, financial backing and volunteerism as we live our faith in welcoming the stranger.

San Mateo parishioners preparing food boxes

Under Bishop Mariann’s leadership, the diocese provided financial backing during COVID which was a boost to this operation of kindness. Two Episcopal churches in the diocese continue to provide storage, delivery preparation, places of distribution and church member volunteers. Saint Stephen and the Incarnation on 16th Street NW in Columbia Heights opens their nave for packing and preparation on Thursday nights and for distribution on Saturday mornings. On Saturdays, food is consolidated and wheeled to waiting cars. Those cars are driven by volunteers who deliver to homes in DC/MD.

When the COVID tsunami struck, FJDMV envisioned supporting 200 migrant families. The original 200 families have shared this food hotline with their community over the past 3.5 years. As a result, FJDMV’s support has escalated to meet an ever-expanding inclusive group including more than 9,000 Black and Brown Latinx families. FJDMV delivers to those who have no transportation, are unhoused or homebound which is unique among most aid groups in the city. With these dramatic numbers increasing, the need is outstripping FJDMV’s capacity to deliver. Therefore, the search for funds and volunteers continues.

San Mateo in Hyattsville is one of the fastest-growing Episcopal churches in the country. Since August, San Mateo has had to reduce food distribution to families from twice monthly to only once. Currently, with the support of FJDMV and Grace, Silver Spring they provide food to over 200 families each month. San Mateo also serves as a distribution base for FJDMV with 22 Black and Brown Haitian, Nigerian and Latin community leaders unloading, sorting, bagging and distributing to more than 1,100 families. It is a scene of frenetic action as trucks come in with bags of rice and beans and foodstuffs, as well as crates of reclaimed fresh fruits and vegetables. Many hands pass on the bags and boxes to the next volunteer in a chain that is a life-line to those who might not otherwise eat. It does not fall on deaf ears, that several helping the operation have received food support in the past. Just as the last bags are filled, families arrive to pick up their “justice in a bag”. There is no short supply of gratitude.

Parishioners at Grace, Silver Spring packing bags of beans and rice

Grace, Silver Spring purchases beans and rice for about 100 families every month. They package these staples into smaller quantities, and deliver the packages directly to San Mateo. Grace Church parishioners have embraced this project and come ready each month with measuring cups in hand to make sure justice is truly served!

FJDMV includes critical maternal and infant health items such as diapers and formula in their deliveries. Christ Church, Kensington is participating with nearly 1,000 diapers delivered to FJDMV in one carload just last week. The Cathedral Scholars, a program for recruited DC high school students who the Cathedral helps to mentor in academics and other skill sets, have brought their muscle and spirit on Saturdays to load vehicles. Members of our churches and ministries volunteer including students who receive community service credit.

How do these operations continue their missions? With volunteerism, generosity of our community and a well-oiled machine of dedicated volunteer leadership. There are cracks in the system forming due to the skyrocketing cost of food and growing number of those in need. FJDMV finds itself navigating both of these difficult realities. San Mateo would like to restore their twice monthly distributions. Fr. Vidal Rivas estimates the beans and rice cost $1,125 for each distribution.
St. Stephen and the Incarnation's nave with boxes of food awaiting delivery
Food distribution has become a network of support for those without a safety net. For example, a newly arrived family in Maryland was in need of food. The mother’s due date was the day of her call of distress. A volunteer delivered food while another helped her with the information regarding Montgomery County’s Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Care coverage. Likewise, San Mateo has the pulse of its community with food distribution being a point of contact in their network of services which include a bi-monthly medical clinic.

This is how migrant support unfolds – by word of mouth and networks that link need with support systems in a new country. We have been given opportunities in this network to be part of the joyful welcoming of our new neighbors.

There are many other avenues and support groups to help our new arrivals. If interested, please contact:

The Washington National Cathedral Sanctuary Ministry supports the migrants in many capacities as well as sending out regular Action Alerts of actions that can be taken as well as giving and volunteer opportunities in the DC metro area. Contact us to learn more 

The Refugee Response Team of the Diocese meets bi-monthly to discuss local diocesan needs, actions and responses for our neighbors. Contact the Refugee Response Team to learn more 

Claudia Russell
Co-chair of the WNC Sanctuary Ministry