Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Ebenezer Christian Reformed Church in Trenton, Ont., has offered a good food program to help feed families in its West Quinte neighborhood. Started by two sisters with a strong interest in food security, the Family Dinner Meal Box program has attracted the financial support of the congregation and the volunteer time of about 30 church and community members. It provides healthy meals and fresh food to up to 80 people every other week.
“It started as an idea in May 2020, when I was laid off from my job in the hospitality industry due to COVID restrictions,” said Miranda De Vries, one of the program founders. “Ebenezer Church has a connections committee, looking at ways to impact our community. Together with my sister Jen Koorneef, who manages the local food bank in Quinte West, we brought a proposal to the committee to offer a meal box program. We had research showing that 12% of households in Quinte were food insecure in 2017. We proposed a program offering a food box with a couple of nutritious meals for the whole family. The committee liked the idea, provided us with seed money, and we got busy.”
One of a few main understandings as they got started was that “the meal box program will always be seen as a band aid solution to food insecurity but not an answer,” De Vries said. “It's important for us as a community to continue to seek ways to advocate for this right.”
Meals from the food box program aren’t the nonperishable variety often found at food banks. Food box program volunteers prepare two fresh meals in the church’s kitchen and package fresh produce, eggs, milk, and yogurt (as available) in each box. Anyone can request a box by contacting the church office or emailing the program. With this direct contact, volunteers can take special care to accommodate individual dietary requirements. They include local produce when it’s in season and purchase the other groceries for the boxes at a local supermarket on a church-funded account. Congregants contribute regularly scheduled offerings for the program to cover its costs.
When the program started, it was advertised at the local food bank and by word of mouth within the Ebenezer congregation. Before long, program clients spread the word to the point where the meals are now shared with 70 to 80 people every other week. Most clients pick up their food box at the church building on alternate Friday mornings.
While the sisters who started the program have had to step back from it recently, the Family Dinner program is going strong. “The program is entirely run and operated by a growing number of volunteers, both who attend Ebenezer CRC regularly or a part of the wider Quinte community,” De Vries said. “The program has continued to succeed due to the strong prayerful, financial and volunteer support of this community.”
Gary Haveman, ministry coordinator at Ebenezer CRC, said he thinks such a program could easily be replicated in other church communities. “We view the clients as part of the Ebenezer Church family—not excluded from who we are—and look forward to opportunities to nurture these relationships.”