Last week on the blog we met Zoe, a former youth from Covenant Presbyterian in Roanoke who spent her high school years tutoring at the Presbyterian Community Center. This week we meet Emma, another Covenant youth who also spent her time at the PCC, but did significant work with their food distribution program. In her six years working with the program, Emma not only learned about food justice, but also that serving alongside others can serve to bridge the boundaries that divide us.
The event that Emma was most heavily involved with was Hunger Busters, an annual event held on Halloween in which they gathered food from the neighborhoods surrounding Covenant Presbyterian, and then took it to the PCC to distribute to people in that neighborhood. Emma said, “Our church is probably 15 minutes away from the Center itself…but the socioeconomic status can change pretty quickly as you go across town. Our church isn’t in a wealthy area necessarily, but it is predominantly middle-class people, so that’s where we’d distribute the bags for Trick-or-Treat or Hunger Busters. We would leave the bags in that neighborhood and collect from our fellow church members, and then take that to the PCC.” In crossing those geographical boundaries that separate the two parts of town, she was also able to cross boundaries of socioeconomic status that would normally separate people.
When we asked Emma what it was like to cross those boundaries, she said, “It works both ways. The people on the receiving end were obviously happy, but you were also really happy because everyone who was providing the food knew what they were doing, so it wasn’t necessarily awkward to transition those boundaries…you didn’t really think about it, you just kind of did it. It was just kind of natural.”
Crossing these boundaries with people from her church helped Emma build relationships with them. She told us that the initial reason she decided to get involved with the PCC was because her older cousins and brother were involved, so she thought it was a great way to get involved with her church, and especially to bond with older members of her youth group. The PCC also has a middle school and high school after-school program. Emma said, “a lot of the people who were in that would come be a part of our youth group, so we had relationships with people our own age.” She also told us that the most significant relationship she formed through serving at the PCC was with a church elder in his 70s who served alongside her during Hunger Busters. Emma said, “He and I just totally hit it off, and every time we would go to work at the food pantry, we would always do it together…it’s not common that you see an 18 year old and a 77 year old be really close, but because of the PCC I have that relationship, so I’m really grateful for that.” Emma is in college now, but says the two of them met for lunch when she was home on winter break.
Crossing these boundaries also introduced Emma to food justice issues. She told us she learned that, “it’s very unevenly distributed…if you don’t have unlimited resources, the only thing that’s available to you are the cheaper, unhealthy things. You don’t have access to fresh produce, fruits, and vegetables, and all the good things you need to be healthy. You’re short-changed because you can’t afford it, and I don’t think that’s fair at all.” Emma says that all the things she learned from her time at the PCC inspired her to get involved with service in college. In just her first semester she has been involved in a community outreach program, the Humane Society, a gift-wrapping donation party, and has signed up for Habitat.
Emma has been busy! Have you? Let us know what your youth are doing to make a difference in your community, and check out this study guide we’ve created to help share Emma’s story.