The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


‘You gave me food’

ELCA college, congregation take Matthew 25 to heart

The pantry at First Lutheran Church, Decorah, Iowa, receives a boost from neighboring Luther College’s food service.

Regular food pantry fare — cereal, peanut butter, rice and tuna — is supplemented by fresh frozen soups and entrees, meats and vegetables from the college cafeteria. Luther’s student volunteers and dining service staff work together to carry out the “Caf to Community” program, bringing healthy, homemade food to households in need.

Maren Stumme-Diers, sustainable food educator at Luther, said it’s hard to predict how much food will be needed for students each day. “So much food is left over, often trays of hot food that never left the kitchen … but there is not enough, volume-wise, to serve it again,” she explained. “The dining services staff tries to work it into side dishes, but much of this food would have to be composted if we couldn’t share it.”

Through Students Helping Our Community (SHOC), volunteers pack the fresh-cooked food into 1 quart microwavable containers, label them and pop them into freezers at Luther. One week the SHOC team packaged 108 containers, almost 175 pounds of mushroom soup and clam chowder, maple turkey and pulled pork, sweet potatoes, baked beans, carrots and squash. 

“It’s good, healthy food,” said Carolyn Flaskerud, co-director of First’s pantry.

Kitchen staff monitor temperatures and dates of the donated items to ensure the food is not only tasty but safe. More than 36 percent of food served at Luther comes from local sources, a value of the school’s Center for Sustainable Communities.

Twice each week, student and community volunteers load up the frozen food for delivery to First and Decorah Lutheran Church across town. Since the program started last November, they’ve provided more than 7,819 pounds of food. 

“It’s exciting for me,” said Beckah Schultz, Minnetonka, Minn., one of the student coordinators for Caf to Community. “I want to go into food systems work, particularly advancing sustainable agriculture through organic farming or working on the policy side. Working in this position gives me an idea of another sector of the food systems. I am super-privileged to have this position and see it from the beginning stages [to] delivering food to the food pantry and seeing the people who are receiving the meals.” 

600 served monthly

First’s food pantry, which has been in operation since 1996, serves almost 600 clients every month, Flaskerud said. “We started with a few groceries on hand for folks in need,” she said. “Our inventory grew to be stored in a supply room and now resides in our parish hall. 

“We were in the red for a while. We went out speaking to women’s groups in all the Decorah churches, and they came through with some funds.”

The pantry also joined the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, which allows the group to buy provisions from certain stores at a deep discount. “One dollar buys $11 worth of food. We can get a whole carton of cereal for the price of a single box,” she said.

The pantry is open to the public every afternoon, Monday through Friday, and Thursday evenings, in conjunction with the Decorah Community Free Clinic. “We operate on the basis of Matthew 25:35: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food,’ ” said Flaskerud, who sees an increasing number of elderly clients and young families.

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