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Congregation embraces neighborhood through food and fellowship program A By Katie Scarvey About 15 years ago, First Lutheran Church in


Bryan, Ohio, decided to take stock of itself. Emily Ebaugh, a member since 1984, remembers the re-evaluation process well: “We asked ourselves, ‘Why are we here, specifically, at the corner of Cherry and Bryan streets?’ ” Out of that soul-searching came a commitment


to “fling our doors wide,” Ebaugh said. The congregation, founded in 1875, decided to focus on serving its immediate neighborhood, which is home to many lower middle-class working families. Although First now reaches out to the


community in myriad ways, the Food and Fellowship program, co-directed by Ebaugh and Betty Franks, wife of First’s pastor, Richard Franks, has become a cornerstone of its outreach. At the time the congregation was re-evaluating


its mission, it ran a tiny food pantry that was basically a cupboard in the hall with food. In 2003, as part of its new commitment to the community, First applied for an ELCA World Hunger (elca.org/hunger) grant to beef up this pantry. The congregation received $3,000 through the domestic hunger program to launch Food and Fellowship, which has continued to receive ELCA grants over the years. Food and Fellowship is one of several pantries in


the town of about 9,000 residents. While the typical pantry might allot users an assortment of canned and boxed items, First offers a choice of fresh fruit and vegetables, along with fresh and frozen meat. Allowing users to make their own selections empowers them, Ebaugh said, and helps ensure that food is used and not wasted. Her son, Bronson Ebaugh, and his wife, Nayadet


Ortega Perez, operate the pantry. Both speak Spanish as well as English, making them well-suited to serve the diverse community.


Photo at left on opposite page: Families that live near First Lutheran in Bryan, Ohio, help tend the congregation’s garden and take home fresh produce when it’s available. Shown here is Lucy Grime. Top right: Emily Ebaugh, Food and Fellowship program co-director, and her granddaughter, Martina Ebaugh Ortega,


26 JUNE 2016 The pantry has gained many community partners


along the way, including Trinity, Bryan’s other ELCA church. The county’s United Way contributes personal care items like soap, toothpaste and toilet paper. Groups such as Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, the Wild Turkey Federation and God’s Acre also donate food and funds.


Nourishing body, mind and spirit The Food and Fellowship program is about much more than distributing food, however. With funds from ELCA World Hunger, the congregation also began a Sunday supper series, which nourishes not only bodies but minds and spirits as well. First invites people from the neighborhood to help prepare and enjoy the nutritious meal. Afterward a speaker leads a program that often focuses on health and nutrition education. Inspired and assisted by one speaker, the


congregation planted a community garden, which supports its food pantry and is an educational tool. Zumba and yoga classes are also offered at no charge throughout the week to encourage physical activity. The Sunday suppers are a great thing, said Jason


Williams, who has been participating with his family since the program began. He and his wife, Mindy, volunteer as cooks/food preparers and have been enthusiastic evangelists for the program, which benefits members and non-members, Williams said. A church council member, he loves seeing members and friends getting together to enjoy the evenings. First is always looking for outreach opportunities


and is proactive about meeting people where they are, Ebaugh said. Using the connections made with the food pantry, the congregation invites people to participate in First’s other programs.


work alongside each other in the garden. Middle right: Rob McIlvain; his grandson, Anthony Marion; and McIlvain’s daughter, Jessica Dugan, do a baking activity as part of First’s Food and Fellowship program. Bottom right: Sunday supper participants plant seeds for the garden.


transformational ministry


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