Sean Barrett: Significant needs in the area for access to healthy food

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 3, 2021

Seven years ago, I was called to be the pastor of Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church. Shortly after my arrival, I was asked to participate in both the Healthy Rowan and the Food and Farm Network committees. Although Saint Peter’s mailing address is in Salisbury, the parish is located between Rockwell and Gold Hill. One could say that the congregation is, “out in the country a good bit.” Food insecurity exists here. An urban or suburban food desert is any location that is more than 1 mile away from a grocery store. A rural food desert is technically considered to be any location that is 10 miles or more from a grocery store. Despite the difference in definition, it is obvious that many in this part of Rowan County experience a food desert.

Many residents here lack access to transportation, so making a visit to the local grocery store is impossible. This, along with high rates of poverty and lower levels of education, create a lack of access to healthy food for many living near Saint Peter’s. My participation in Healthy Rowan, the Food and Farm Network, and ministry in the county opened my eyes to the significant needs in this area regarding access to healthy food.

Healthy food is linked to longer life spans, lower rates of illness, and higher quality of life overall. Children who have access to healthy food also tend to be more sociable and perform better in school. Access to healthy food makes a huge difference to all ages!

As a Christian, I am called to participate in God’s mission. The Bible is clear that part of God’s mission is that the hungry be fed. Saint Peter’s sits on about 13 acres of land. The congregation is filled with people who understand how to raise a garden. This all came together in 2015 when the congregation planted its first garden on about 1/8 of an acre. That year, 108 pounds of produce was raised and given away to hungry neighbors. It was a small harvest that had an enormous impact on the congregation as Saint Peter’s learned it already had the resources to make a positive and tangible difference in the day-to-day lives of neighbors.

Over the past few years, the location of the garden was moved and expanded. Half of it was converted to raised garden beds through a grant from the North Carolina Synod. It was thrilling to see this year’s garden finally cross the 1,100-pound mark! Along the way, Saint Peter’s furthered an existing partnership with Rowan Helping Ministries to become the site of Rowan Helping Ministries East. The congregation operates that branch of Rowan Helping Ministries on the second and third Saturdays of each month from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. The produce grown in the church’s garden has become a staple of what our guests receive each week. People from Saint James Lutheran Church have also begun to serve in the pantry at Saint Peter’s. Donations are regularly received from Luther’s Lutheran Church and Concordia Lutheran Church. The V.A. Medical center made a huge donation of food this past Christmas season.

Why am I sharing all of this with you?

First, I want you to see your neighbors who are struggling. As you drive through the county, you will see countless homes that are rundown. Homes with no vehicles in sight. Many of the people living in those homes that we pass by on country roads are struggling to access healthy food.

Second, I want you to know that you can make a difference. The people at Saint Peter’s found their way to creating a big impact in the lives of neighbors through partnerships. None of this would be possible without the partnerships of Healthy Rowan, Food and Farm Network, the North Carolina Synod, Rowan Helping Ministries and many other congregations and organizations. All these partnerships support God’s work in feeding our neighbors.

You can make a difference as well. See your neighbors in the county who are struggling and get creative to meet those needs. God loves them all as much as God loves you.

We have a responsibility to love them all because God first loves us.

Sean Barrett is pastor of  Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church.