Orthodox Food Shelf Provides Food And Dignity For The Poor
By Elaine Kalina
Come, enter, and possess the Kingdom that was prepared for you since the world was made. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.” (St. Matthew 25:34-36).
Many Orthodox parishes and individuals have been involved in work to aid those in hunger and in need. But for the first time, we have a uniquely Orthodox effort to feed the hungry and help those in need. John and Patricia Brengman, of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota, remember a time when there was only one chicken and a small loaf of bread to feed their family for a week. Now they go through 8 to 10 tons of food in a month. They don’t eat it; they collect it, package it and distribute it to needy people.
Because their own business had failed, and they had been out of work for more than a year, and had seen what being poor was like face to face, “we thought the food shelf would be a good way to show our thanks.” And so. Trinity Ministry’s food shelf was formed and is now sponsored by the Minneapolis Deanery of the Diocese of the Midwest, Orthodox Church in America. John and Patricia seek to serve “the needs of the hungry poor with love, compassion, respect, and dignity - to provide help for those who find that the month lasts longer than the grocery money.” Now with the help of 75 volunteers they help provide food for 500 to 700 families a month through the food shelf operated out of the Brengman’s home the east side of Saint Paul.
In the basement are shelves of dry and canned foods, along with bar soaps, shampoos, laundry soaps, toilet paper, and feminine napkins. Two large freezers occupy the back porch along with more shelves of dry goods, and the front porch, with its long clothes pole for “help yourself - free” quilts, winter coats, and sweaters, serves as the pickup and delivery spot for the food shelf’s clients. “Many of our clients are low-income working people who don’t qualify at other agency or government food shelves, or who won’t go there because of the records they would have to fill out,” Patricia said. Trinity Ministry requires only that people supply their name, address (if they are not “street people”), and a signature to protect the food shelf from any liability involving the products it supplies.
NURTURING SELF RESPECT
“Helping to keep families together and fed with good wholesome food is essential if we really do believe that the Holy Gospel calls us to be pro-life and pro-family. Dignity is about all that many of these people have left,” John said. “If we can bolster that in any way, we will try. We feel that this is what the Lord Jesus is asking us to do on this earth—to share with others all the gifts that He has given to us. We want our poor brothers and sisters to go away feeling good, not as if they are worthless and a burden.” Most of the people who come to our door want to show us they have a legitimate need, or want to help in some way,” Patricia said. “One man insisted we take his last 37 cents in return for the food he received in order to help someone else.”
CONTRIBUTIONS COME FROM MANY SOURCES
Trinity Ministry is rapidly becoming a focus for Orthodox unity and witness and receives food and monetary contributions from a wide variety of sources: from Holy Trinity Orthodox Church (OCA) in Saint Paul, MN, the home parish of the Brengman family [See The Orthodox Church, February 1989, page four]; from the Saint Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis and Saint George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Saint Paul; from Saint Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral (OCA) with a monthly pledge and food collection. In addition, St. Mary’s summer Vacation Church School stressed the idea of hunger and homelessness to the children which resulted in a collection of non-perishable items for the food shelf. Saint Herman’s Orthodox Church (OCA), in nearby Saint Anthony, MN, has been providing a monthly pledge, food collections, and parish volunteer workers to pack the food boxes and bags.
Additional contributions come from other churches—one Protestant, and three Roman Catholic parishes. Various local business organizations also provide support, and private sources, and many anonymous friends contribute to the ministry. “One hundred percent of those contributions and food donations go directly to needy people,” John Brengman said. “Because Trinity ministry is operated out of our home, we don’t have overhead charges to cover - like wages, capital investments, etc., and we don’t have any capital investments, except maybe a couple of postage stamps.
Trinity Ministry has the capacity to serve up to 1,000 families every month, depending on the amount of donations. “Right now, contributions are down in the post-holiday, winter and cold season. Unfortunately, that is when the need is the highest,” Patricia said. “When it is 23 degrees below (zero) we have our busiest days. They will walk for miles with their children for as little as a few potatoes and some bread.”
“We try to pack and give out food according to the number of people in a family, but when there is not much to give, we provide what we can,” Patricia said. Normally, John and Patricia with three of their seven children still at home, (Bob, Jim and Bert) and their volunteer helpers, pack grocery bags with cans of fruit, vegetables, soup, tuna; boxes of jello, rice, macaroni and cheese, jars of jelly and peanut butter; staples such as sugar, vegetable shortening, flour, and dry milk; and whatever eggs, frozen meat, and fresh produce are available. The food shelf also provides personal items such as soap, detergent, antiperspirant, shampoo, and toilet paper. “We don’t think about how important these things are; we take these luxuries’ for granted, but people need these things to build up a sense of self-worth.
You can’t get them at any other food shelf,” Patricia said. She tells a story of a family whose children were receiving gifts through a toy drive at Trinity Ministry last Christmas. When the parents were asked what they wanted, the woman asked only for a box of laundry detergent. She got that box, and bar soap, and toilet paper and a whole lot more.
BY WORD OF MOUTH
Clients learn about Trinity Ministry by word of mouth, which has worked very effectively. The food shelf is open whenever food and other products are available to be distributed. So clients frequently call to ask when the next open day will be. “The phone rings from dawn to dusk, and into the night. We have about 1,000 clients, new and repeats, so we get a least that many calls in a month’s time,” John said. The Brengman’s home is equipped with an answering machine to help handle all the calls. When there is no food available, it tells the caller to phone again at a specified date. When the food is available, appointments are made for approximate times to pick up articles. “That way we can judge about how many bags and boxes we will need to fill for the day, and we can try to pack according to family size,” Patricia said.
The network of volunteers John and Patricia have built up over the years help with packing, distributing, delivering to homebound and elderly people, picking up donations, and performing the other tasks that help run the food shelf. “Some volunteers put in 8 to 10 to 12 hours a day. They are truly wonderful people. We would be lost without them,” Patricia said.
SERVICE TO PERSONS WITH AIDS
In addition to the food shelf, John and Patricia have opened up a new department of service in Trinity Ministry, the PWA (Persons With AIDS) Services, providing two home-cooked meals once a week to feed between 20 to 40 AIDS victims in the area. KARE, Channel 11 (Minneapolis-Saint Paul), television news recently did a story on the service. It operates smoothly. Patricia cooks the meals, and a group of students at a local Roman Catholic college seminary deliver the meals to a list of very sick, homebound, and needy persons supplied by the Minnesota AIDS Project. “In this way the loving kindness of our Lord and Savior is able to reach out to what some have called the “lepers of our day,” our brothers and sisters with AIDS, so that the lamp of Orthodoxy can burn bright with the light of God’s loving kindness to the special group of people in want,” John said.
All of this has developed through two wonderful, caring and loving Orthodox Christians, John and Patricia Brengman, who in their own life have vowed to serve the poor. From the humble beginnings out of the back porch of a small family home in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Trinity Ministry has grown to a Deanery sponsored project and is looking forward to a time when it can relocate to a larger and more efficient space.
“There are a lot of people involved in this operation besides my family,” John Brengman said. “We welcome anyone who wants to visit us. We encourage you to come and see what is going on here, to see what we are all about. Give us a call. If the machine is on, just leave your name and number, we will get back to you! And, don’t forget to pray for us, especially the people we serve!”
John and Patricia Brengman
826 E. Magnolia Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55106
Elaine Kalina is an active member of St. Mary’s Parish, Minneapolis, Minn. as parish librarian, choir member, and church school teacher. She also helps to collect food, and to cook for the PWA service.