Sometimes people think going to a Third World country to feed those in need is the sole way to help the starving population of the world. What if one's next door neighbor is actually just as hungry?
According to the census, of the 7,683 residents in East Lake, 29 percent live in poverty. The national poverty rating is 11 percent.
"The reason we have chosen to be based in the heart of the East Lake community is due to the dire need for food assistance in that area," said New City Eats volunteer liaison Josie Lesondak. "The mission of New City Eats is to provide food in an affirming environment through a ministry that is relational, ministers to the whole body, enriches the lives of others, empowers individuals and reinforces the comfort of God."
New City Eats volunteers assist 10 families through a food network twice a month in order to give them a hand up. The ministry is in the process of growing and volunteers hope to be able to help 20 families soon.
"We saw children with their ribs showing," Lesondak said of the local youth she has helped. "Nineteen to 20 percent of children in this area are hungry. I talked to two boys that said their mother made them macaroni and cheese and then watched them eat it because there was not enough for her too. We [East Lake] are considered a food desert."
She said the closest United Way 2-1-1 Network for assistance and the closest grocery store are both in St. Elmo, requiring a bus ride. So in January 2012, New City East Lake formed New City Eats, so that people could walk to get assistance instead. A leadership team of eight people assists families in the food network. The Chattanooga Area Food Bank provides palettes of food every other Thursday for the families to pick up at the church.
"When people are no longer worried about where their next meal comes from, they can look for a job and get their kids to school," said Lesondak. "Donors can provide food security for one network family with a sponsorship of $20 per month."
She said through the food network model families pay $3 every other Thursday to go toward holiday parties and birthday cakes for members. The dues give the members ownership of the New City Eats Ministry, so that they contribute too.
She said all network family members offer to help run the New City Eats Ministry. Some take up dues at the door, others box up food and some watch the door to make sure no one takes someone else's food.
"Even the children in the network offer to carry pineapples and boxes," said Lesondak. "The people that receive the food offer to help unload it. We distribute the food evenly. A family of one to three gets one box, a family of four to six gets two boxes and a family of seven to nine gets three boxes."
She said the Chattanooga Area Food Bank provides a wide selection of produce, canned goods, meat, cereal and pasta.
"Food security is defined as having at least two-thirds of what you need," said Lesondak. "I spend $150 at the food bank on a shopping trip and that equals three flatbeds stacked high full of food for East Lake families."
Once food is distributed during Thursday night meetings, the families in the network meet to plan parties or talk about needs.
"Most of our members need transportation," said Lesondak. "They have to bring shopping carts and suitcases with them to take food home in."
She said families learn about how to save money at the Thursday night meetings. Tips found on U.S. News and World Report's website are the norm for East Lake families. The tips include using coupons when grocery shopping, creating a grocery list and sticking to it, stocking up during sales, buying produce by the unit and storing grocery items carefully to keep food fresh longer.
She said the families, which include Hispanics, African-Americans and Caucasians, are planning cooking classes in which they share recipes from their culture. For example, a Hispanic family might teach other member families how to cook Arroz Con Leche, or rice with milk, and an African-American family could teach others how to make chicken and dressing, she said.
"Our goal is to help them grow out of their need for food," said Lesondak. "It's so cool to see how they share with each other. They all really love each other."
To learn more about the New City Eats program send an email to NCEats@newcityeastlake.com or visit the New City Eats causes page on Facebook. To contribute donations to purchase food for families visit www.newcityfellowship.com/giving. New City East Lake Church is located at 2903 E. 37th St.