Food Bank Offers Boxes of Hope
Congregations, Community Come Together for Those in Need

By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 19, 2009

It was the third Saturday of the month -- for many, a time when resources begin to stretch -- and dozens of Prince George's County families converged on the College Park Church of the Nazarene for its monthly food giveaway.

The Rev. Lucille Salmon Sarnor, a native of Liberia, had a pantry and freezer stocked with meat, sweet potatoes and pasta. The Rev. Juan Carlos Joge, a Guatemalan native, passed out canned meats, rice and fresh vegetables. Among the volunteers was a graduate student from China.

At a time when many families are struggling, places of worship everywhere are stepping up to help. What makes that effort unusual at the College Park Church of the Nazarene is the variety of people who are helped.

The program serves the community in College Park, Beltsville and Greenbelt, but it also draws people from the four separate congregations that share the church, led by pastors born in Kenya, Liberia, Guatemala and the United States.

Joge, pastor of the Hispanic congregation, said hard economic times are especially difficult for immigrant families, many of whom came to the United States seeking work because of economic conditions in their native countries. Many are lower-wage earners who have not socked away savings and who do not have relatives upon whom they can rely for help, he said.

"Many immigrants came to this country with dreams of helping to improve their family's economic situation, and to see their dreams shattered is sad," Joge said. "I have seen how people who had their own small businesses have seen things become very quiet and others who have been laid off."

Sarnor said she has started taking members into her home. "They need help until they are able to get on their feet, so we provide that," she said. "Then, hopefully, they will be in a position to help someone else."

Sandra Rodriguez, 29, of Greenbelt stopped by with three of her five children, twins Herson and Janela, 3, and Leslie, 8. She learned about the College Park Community Food Bank from a flier her daughter brought home from school.

"This is a big help for us," she said in Spanish, adding that her husband lost his job as a house painter and that their car was repossessed. "It's very important for people to help with food because some people don't have money to go to the store to buy it."

"A lot of people have lost everything," said Jonathan Vanegas, 12, who volunteered with his father and brother. "It's important for the rest of us to help them."

Angel Cenovio, 16, of Greenbelt came with his mother and baby brother. After his father lost his construction job and his mother was laid off from a factory, the family -- which includes five children -- began to struggle. They left with a box of cabbage, rice, pasta and produce that they expected would last two weeks.

The giveaways take place in the sanctuary on Rhode Island Avenue. The program feeds more than 300 people from as many as 75 families, said volunteer Jessica Skretch.

William Savage III, an unemployed filmmaker who coordinates the giveaway, said the program is part of an emphasis on service at the church. "People know we want to help them," he said.

The Rev. Mark Garrett, the English-speaking pastor, said an informal survey of nonprofit organizations in the area revealed the need for a food giveaway.

"We realize food is just a Band-Aid when there are so many things that people need, but it is a start," he said. "This is a good first staging place for the type of ministry that we will eventually do."

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