The Springfield United Methodist Church will open its doors at 7047 Old Keene Mill Road tomorrow (Friday) to anyone in need of a warm, free meal for St. Patrick’s Day.
While hosted by that church, the St. Patrick’s Day Supper and Community Conversation is being organized by the Provision Church, a new United Methodist Church dedicated to addressing food insecurity in southeastern Fairfax County.
Launched on Jan. 1, Provision Church aims to help people in need not just by handing out meals, but by encouraging entrepreneurship and teaching culinary skills through a planned job training program, its leader, the Rev. Alyssa Densham, told FFXnow.
“We go further up the river than offering someone just a free meal or a free bag of food,” Densham said. “We speak into the right that all people have for self-determination and hope to level the playing field so that all people have access to the resources and support to become the people they dream of becoming.”
A trained chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of American in 2010, Densham worked at a food bank, the nonprofit National Farm to School Network, and faith-based charity programs before becoming associate pastor of food justice and access at Rising Hope Mission Church in Mount Vernon.
Provision Church grew out of conversations she had while working in communities along the Route 1 corridor, where she met people who aspired to have their own food-related businesses but struggle with a lack of financial or emotional support, health care access, literacy, and other barriers.
“I spoke to one woman who is a phenomenal cook, but because of [a] poorly supported learning challenge, she is functionally illiterate and can’t read recipes to work in the restaurants that she wants to work in,” she said. “Through these conversations, I heard communities cry out for programs that saw them as whole people with real dreams living real lives.”
Fairfax County residents with the greatest challenges accessing food are concentrated along the Route 1 or Richmond Highway corridor, according to the county’s 2022 Food Security Index, though there are also pockets of high need in Annandale, Seven Corners and the Herndon area.
A county economic needs assessment found that food costs in the region rose 8.4% from May 2021 to May 2022 and 25.6% over the past decade, straining households likely also struggling with other expenses.
Overall, about 24% of county residents are food-insecure, 8% of them severely, the Capital Area Food Bank’s 2022 Hunger Report found.
In a news release, Provision Church noted that its St. Patrick’s Day dinner comes as many residents feel the impact of federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits reverting to pre-pandemic levels.
Made under the direction of Densham’s husband, also a trained chef, the meal will have Guinness beef stew, soda bread with sweet cream butter and lemon berry fool. The event is open from 6:30-8 p.m. to all community members at no cost, though donations to support the church and its upcoming training program will be accepted.
A Lenten fish fry held on Feb. 24 with a similar “pay-as-you-can” approach drew 43 people. More are anticipated at the upcoming dinner, Densham said.
“We want to bring the fine dining experience to all people,” she said.
The Springfield United Methodist Church offered to host the dinners in its community gathering space while the weather is cold, but Provision Church hopes to later serve meals outdoors at sites across Fairfax County that are accessible by public transportation.
The church plans to eventually form a nonprofit called Provision Kitchen. It’s on track to buy a food truck within the next month or two that will serve as a mobile kitchen and host the culinary training program, which will launch this summer.
“Provision Church is a community that comes around those with dreams that have been deferred because of the experience of generational poverty and systemic classism and racism and supports them through training and coaching so that they can achieve security and then help others in their communities do the same,” Densham said by email.
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