Hungry Teens Find Free Food, No-Hassles Caring
By Carrie Madren
|Mosaic member Tanya Baity helps stock food shelves before opening day.|
Pregnant teenagers kicked out of the house.
"Couch-surfers" who crash at a friend or relative's house.
Youth laying low under a bridge, or riding trains all night.
These are some of the teens served by the No-Hassles Food Pantry at Brooklyn United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Center, Minn., each Wednesday afternoon.
"It's a no-hassles model which means we don't ask for identification, and we don't do a means test to determine needs," said the Rev. Rachel McIver Morey, a church planter and pastor of the new Brooklyn Mosaic United Methodist Church. Mosaic shares a building with Brooklyn Church in the Twin Cities metro area, just northwest of Minneapolis. "The more questions you ask, the fewer kids will use the resources," she continues.
"Young people who are precariously housed or homeless have very limited access to food," said Kim O'Grady, youth support specialist at YMCA Intervention Services POINT Northwest. "We recognize the fact that a lot of times showing proof of income or proof of address is just not feasible, so young people struggle to get access to basic food supplies."
The youth pantry opened its doors in early August, and serves people ages 14 to 21. Anyone older is served once, and then directed to other food resources in the area.
Four groups work together to provide the pantry — Brooklyn Mosaic, Brooklyn Church, Community Emergency Assistance Program (CEAP) and POINT Northwest, a YMCA outreach to homeless. The partnership formed last spring at an ecumenical alliance meeting where a school social worker noted that the closest food pantry was 10 miles away — much too far for kids to walk to.
Suburban teens underserved
"We have a spike in homeless and runaway youth in our cities," said Morey. While there are plenty of resources in the inner cities, pantry creators noticed a sharp increase in homeless youth in the Twin Cities' northwest suburbs — hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. "The youth were completely underserviced," Morey continued.
Brooklyn Church provides the space; CEAP supplies the food, shelving and a scale. POINT Northwest staffs the weekly ministry to provide referrals and social service resources if the kids ask. However, unlike at other shelters or kitchens, teens aren't required to sit down with a caseworker. "For kids who aren't able to go home and be safe that's very off-putting," the Rev. Marilyn Evans, Brooklyn Church pastor, said.
In its first two months, the pantry has served from 12 to nearly 50 youth each Wednesday afternoon. Morey has noticed quite a few girls and no small number of pregnant teens and teen moms.
Brooklyn Church's location between a senior and junior high school, with CEAP across the street, makes the pantry easily accessible to teens. The pantry is in a room near the parking lot and one of the main entrances to the church. In the next 18 months, a more permanent food pantry and teen clothes closet will be built at CEAP.
"We work to make this a truly a safe place to come and get some help," said Evans. "We hope that people come away with the impression that ‘God really cares about me' and ‘there's a church — two churches — here that I can rely on and be comfortable in.'"
Youth can pack up to 50 pounds of food in free cloth grocery sacks — though no one's yet reached the max. In addition to canned food, boxed food, staples such as flour and sugar, pasta and more, youth can find free hygiene and baby supplies. The pantry also gives out can openers.
Sharing food buys shelter
|YMCA staffer Laura Lekander enters data about food pantry clients into the record sheet.|
A share of food offers not only a meal, but also buys couch-hoppers more time at the home of a friend or relative. "The problem is that the couches run out," Morey said. "If they can contribute to the home's food supply, they may be able to stay longer."
It's not just homeless kids who stop by. "There are a lot of kids living at home who only eat at school — free breakfast and lunch — but there's no food at home," said volunteer food shelf stocker Mitzi Heath, who's also a student assistance counselor at Park Center Senior High School, next to the church. Some parents keep the refrigerator locked or have bare cupboards. "It's gotten so much worse I can't even keep up with it at Park Center," Heath continued. "A lot of us have food in our offices because kids will come in and be hungry."
Church staff and volunteers try not to be intrusive — typically just saying "hello."
To other churches wondering how to take that next step, both Morey and Heath said that creating a food pantry was fairly simple. Said Evans: "You can do something now — you don't have to wait."
Carrie Madren is a freelance writer based in Olney, Md.
Get the Facts:
In the U.S. in 2002, there were approximately 1,682,900 homeless and runaway youth (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice)
Some 5 to 7 percent of American youths become homeless in any given year (National Alliance to End Homelessness)
Between 6 and 22 percent of homeless teenagers are pregnant (Health Resources and Services Administration, 2001)
57 percent of homeless youth spend at least one day every month without food (Covenant House, www.covenanthouse.org)
More than 25 percent of former foster children become homeless within two to four years of leaving the system (Covenant House)
Want to start a food pantry?
For suggestions on how to start a food pantry in your church, visit www.ehow.com and search for "starting a food pantry."
|The Rev. Rachel Morey sorts donated clothing.|