Platform: Offering Food to Christ Himself
By Karen Jackson
Project Hospitality began in 1982 when the heart of Roland Ratmeyer, pastor of Brighton Heights Reformed Church, was moved to respond to the needs of people sleeping in the churchyard and asking for food. A simple food pantry out of the closet of that church has grown into one of Staten Island’s largest nonprofit ministries serving people who are hungry and homeless.
As a specialized RCA minister working with Project Hospitality, I am blessed to oversee our help centers, where we assist the working poor who are struggling to stay financially afloat by enrolling them in public benefits such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) and by providing free legal counsel. This is the work of ministry. We tend to people’s needs in a dignified and compassionate manner in faithfulness to Christ’s calling in Matthew 25. For every time we hand a pantry bag to a hungry family and sign them up for SNAP, we are feeding Christ himself. Every time we help a sick person access Medicaid and find a doctor, we are healing Christ himself. Every time we greet new immigrants, file their asylum petitions, and accompany them to immigration court, we are welcoming Christ himself.
Over the summer, the U.S. Congress was poised to cut SNAP funding by nearly $19 billion, taking food assistance away from 2 million people. In response, the clergy volunteers of Project Hospitality came together to observe a spiritual and material fast as an offering to God and to pray for the wisdom and discernment of our congressional leaders. We fasted for 72 hours and held a prayer vigil outside our congressman’s office, urging him not to vote to cut SNAP funding.
At the vigil, we set a table with empty place settings while holding a large basket of bread as a visual representation of how some households in our country do not have the resources to put food on their tables while others experience abundance. How can we sleep well at night with full stomachs when we know that our neighbors are hungry? Our Christian faith compels us to live out God’s calling in Isaiah 58:7 to share our bread with the hungry.
Karen Jackson is a specialized RCA minister serving as the director of recovery and community initiatives at Project Hospitality in Staten Island, New York. “Platform” reflects the views of its author.