East Lake UMC food co-op ministry provides food access and community

March 08, 2022

Each week congregations throughout the North Alabama Conference live out Jesus’ words “for I was hungry and you gave me food…” (Matthew 25:35) by feeding their food-insecure neighbors. These ministries take on many forms including food pantries, hot meals, grocery assistance, farmers markets, community gardens, weekend meal/snack bags for school children and more.

One growing ministry model adopted by numerous congregations is a Food Co-op which allows churches to not only provide food but to grow in relationship and ministry with people in their community in the spirit of the Conference priority ministry with the poor.

One of the newest food co-ops has been started at East Lake UMC (South Central District).

East Lake UMC Senior Pastor Rev. Sally Allocca says, “What exactly is a food co-op? It is an empowerment food ministry that is a different model from a food pantry. The co-op is a consistent group of people that meet twice a month to receive 1/3 to 1/2 of the food that their family needs for the month. The co-op members put in sweat equity and commitment. It is more than just a food access program. It is an opportunity to build community.”

The East Lake co-op uses donations and grants to purchase food from the Central Alabama Food Bank. “Food is then distributed twice a month to the income-eligible members of the co-op according to their family size,” Allocca explains. “Everyone in the co-op has a job – unload the truck, sort the food, take out the trash, load up the boxes into cars, clean up the room, etc. There are also a couple of paid jobs to give community members an opportunity for employment. We offer a short devotional and prayer as well as community announcements at each co-op.”

The co-op ministry at East Lake has been in the making for almost four years.

The idea first emerged when Canterbury UMC offered to help the East Lake congregation start a co-op after realizing when they did food giveaways, many of the people in need were from the East Lake area. “In an effort to more effectively provide food access, and to support other United Methodist churches, they offered to help start a co-op in our church,” Allocca says. “The leadership team heard all the details of the co-op and excitedly gave a unanimous vote to get started. Unfortunately, we just did not have the energy and capacity to get it going at that point.”

Then in 2020, another church, Woodlawn UMC, also offered to help East Lake get a co-op started. The Woodlawn congregation has successfully started three co-ops. Their leaders noticed many participants from the East Lake zip code and so they offered to share their knowledge and experience and give monetary support to start a co-op at East Lake UMC. However, before the co-op could get up and running, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

After these delays, the East Lake UMC co-op is now underway.

“It seems like we have been praying for this and dreaming of this for a long time,” Allocca reflects. “Now, however, we believe the timing is just right. We are starting this new ministry just as Eastern Area Christian Ministries (EACM) is ending its wonderful time of service in our community. EACM began here as a ministry of East Lake UMC before it grew and moved and expanded to include community churches.”

She adds, “Now is the right time for us to start another food ministry here in our building and God only knows how it will grow and expand.”

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