Good Neighbors

Two churches tackle hunger in a unique partnership.

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By Kathleen Childers

LEESBURG, FLORIDA—Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and First Presbyterian Church of Leesburg—situated on the same block in this town—are truly good neighbors. Both had been working to combat hunger in the area, so it seemed only natural for their congregations to join forces in their efforts. The result is a nonprofit partnership, Joining Hands in Food Ministry (JHIFM), which was founded in 2013.

“On the second Friday of each month, about 40 volunteers gather at Gloria Dei to distribute a week’s supply of groceries to local residents in need,” says Richard Cassem, the nonprofit’s chief operating officer and a member of Gloria Dei.

Volunteers come from the churches and the community. They work in teams to register clients, bag groceries, load cars, restock bagging tables, recycle cardboard boxes and direct traffic in the parking lot. In addition to distributing food, the nonprofit also provides a referral service for families dealing with drug abuse, domestic violence, and health care and housing issues.

Cassem and others have led a number of Thrivent Action Teams to bring in food donations. They also get donations from members of the churches, local businesses and the St. James Episcopal Women’s Group. One of their national donors recently had to stop giving them funds due to budget cuts, so JHIFM is contacting other nonprofits for help.

Their efforts have made a difference to this community: In 2018, they distributed more than 113,000 pounds of food to nearly 1,700 families. Their goal for 2019 is to equal that.