For eighteen years, the St. Paul’s, Dayton, Youth Mission trip has been out of town. Traditionally it has been a summer week away, for nine years in Athens County and for nine years in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee. The work in those areas was hard-core, truly dedicated service and formative fellowship. But this year, our week away will be local – into the inner city of Dayton to understand more clearly the issues of hunger in our city. Our mentors will be staff and volunteers of three non-profits that work for food justice every day: House of Bread, the Food Bank of Dayton and Harvest for Hope Gardens.

“Mission trip experiences help move people beyond the abstract to empowerment,” says St. Paul’s rector, the Rev. John M. Atkins. “When given hands-on opportunities intended to heighten awareness of human need, participants discover their own abilities for making realistic and significant changes in our world. Through these experiences, God’s call for justice and our Christian witness come together, and that’s exciting.”

Dayton is among the top 15 hungriest cities nationwide. That’s a rather shocking statistic! The Food Bank in Dayton provides emergency food for an estimated 70,000 different individuals annually. 40% of those people are children under 18. Dayton Episcopal Food Pantry is one of over 100 partnering agencies that purchase resources from the Food Bank. St. Paul’s and the other Episcopal Churches in the area collect food for DEFP. Our pantry is a USDA operation, serving anyone in need twice a month. DEFP is non-zip code specific, which allows more flexibility of service.

This summer, we’re sending young members of the parish out to do further research: how do hungry people access food in Dayton and how much of this food is fresh produce? If food is fresh, are instructions given for preparing it? How many people take advantage of prepared meals at House of Bread or another source? Our goal is to get to know the problem, using Dayton as a model community, in hopes of increasing awareness and inspiring donations of money, food items, fresh produce, development of community gardens, additional outlets for accessing food supplies and more.

House of Bread has incredible volunteer participation. Good thing, given their mission: serving a hot, nutritious, lunchtime meals to anyone in need, 365 days a year. Most days, they serve over 200 guests. In the last two years, volunteers have built raised garden beds behind the HOB building in order to supply fresh vegetables during the summer months. St. Paul’s families will participate in utilizing those beds this year, including spring cleanup, seed sowing, maintaining beds and harvesting food for the HOB’s daily meals. We hope to work with other groups on this project, sharing experiences in the garden to encourage more volunteerism outdoors.

Harvest for Hope is a relatively new non-profit community garden. Their goal is to grow and harvest food in support of hungry families in Dayton. Last year, much of the food grown was donated to House of Bread and Dayton Episcopal Food Pantry. This three-acre garden is a long, narrow slice of land, nestled in a neighborhood in northwest Dayton. It has drawn many local youth with an interest in helping out. Several organizations, including St. Paul’s, hope to come together as an interfaith community to populate the garden with volunteer youth and friends to build community for youth across the city. Discussions have included ideas for construction of a community pavilion for education, sponsoring interfaith collaborative projects and even offering cooking demonstrations from the garden harvest. There are so many ways that growing food, collecting food and preparing food can feed a community, physically and spiritually.

This work is familiar to St. Paul’s families. We have been giving food donations for many years. In 2016, we received a generous gift from a parishioner – bags with a pantry-shopping list printed on the side – to help families remember the pantry on grocery day with donation of specific food items. This has boosted our donated food quantities quite a bit! Our youth group has served at House of Bread for several years, giving their all and having fun doing it! All leftover food from St. Paul’s events is donated to St. Vincent de Paul or similar. But this summer we’ll be moving from involvement to immersion, educating our youth and families with formative experiences that promote the dignity of every human being. Sad to say, most cities have a hunger problem to solve. Wherever our teens reside throughout their lives, there will be need. The availability of healthy food and clean water are among the most essential ministries to the people of any community, honoring our charge to love our neighbors.

Our mission trip will take place the week of July 10-14. We would like to invite youth from around the diocese to join us for this mission, particularly those from congregations in the Dayton region. We are in this community together, realizing God’s mission a little at a time. (More information at http://stpauls-dayton.org/outreach/mtop/)

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

Jean Howat Berry is the Director of Formation and Communications at St. Paul’s, Dayton. She believes gardening to be a gateway to “the beloved community.” Contact Jean at jean@stpauls-dayton.org.