Mary Duke McCartt is a long-time GFCer - and she also happens to be one of the founders of our Mountain View Backpack Food Program. For years she has headed up this ministry with enthusiasm, diligence, and a bit of classic Southern charm. Under her leadership, GFC has been privileged to provide around 10,000 bags of Backpack Food to children who are food insecure.
We asked her a few questions to help you become more familiar with the ins and outs of this program.
You’ve been at GFC for quite awhile. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
We’ve been at GFC since 1987, when the church still met in the little house over on Virginia Street. We came in the summer when there was no air conditioning... those were the years when you only went to Grace because you really wanted to be there! I’ve sung on stage on Sundays, I’ve taught Bible studies here at GFC. I write an article in the newspaper every week. I’m a food blogger – marydukecooks.com. I take care of my elderly mother. I sing in a band about 22 weekends out of the year. Right now I’m teaching an Inter-Varsity Bible study, too.
How did you get involved with the Backpack Food Program in the beginning? Tell me a little about the program’s beginnings.
I attended an informational meeting when our Mountain View ministry was launching a series of engagements for our church body and the school. I was interested in food because I’m a registered dietitian, and my background is in nutrition. I didn’t realize when I went into that first meeting how food insecure so many of the children in this city are. In fact, at Mountain View, over 96% of students are below the poverty level. As a result, the school serves them breakfast, lunch, and a snack in the afternoons… but you have to ask yourself – what do they do on the weekends? How do they eat?
When we first started, I think we began by providing food bags for 15 students… but the need was much greater than that. We added more students every year, and now we’re providing food bags on the weekend for 100 students. Between Second Harvest and GFC, we distribute backpack food every single weekend.
We know there’s a need, because we’ve heard stories about children who hide their food so that they get to eat it later. There are many teachers who come Monday morning and are handing students a bag of food when they walk in the door because they know they haven’t eaten all weekend. These students can’t concentrate or learn because they’re so hungry. The goal is to make sure they have something to eat so they can learn.
The majority of us are so oblivious to these facts because we don’t live “food insecure.”
After the first school year, we were so excited that we’d made it. We made it, we made it! And we would get a break for a few months… well I woke up the next morning and I was in tears because I realized – “What are they going to eat all summer?” That’s when we started the summer mobile food pantry.
Unlike lunch buddies, we don’t have direct contact with the students. We don’t know who our bags go to. We just know that hopefully they’re not going to go hungry.
Apart from your professional background, what motivates you?
1 John 3:17-18: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” I take these verses literally!
What does the food program look like up close?
Each bag contains 15 name-brand items. These items provide enough food for the weekend and include protein sources, juice, a milk, cereal, even stuff for dinner. There’s a lot of variety within those bags. We have 3 versions of the bag that we do.
And what does the process entail? How does the food get from you to the school?
Someone has to order the food, which is a really involved process! I mean, entire pallets of food, 3 car loads, thousands of dollars in purchases… then that person or persons prep the assembly tables, which are set up end to end like an assembly line. The next day, the volunteers come in and pack the food bags. After that, we all go over to Mountain View to drop them off. We always do 4 weeks at a time so that we can stay about a month ahead from when the school needs the bags.
It takes about 10 volunteers once a month for 2 hours to pack 400 bags of food, and believe it or not, we have a hard time finding people who choose to commit to that.
What’s the team like?
The group is really fun – there’s a lot of energy buzzing when we pack the bags. They’re always laughing and cutting up.
I think there’s value in the church and in ministries like this because people are consistently working together and forming relationships with one another. It’s a great way besides being in a community group to give back and serve.
What have your responsibilities looked like over the years? You’ve been there since the beginning, right?
Well we’ve actually had several regulars over the years. My co-leader and I are the ones who go buy the food and then bring it back to GFC and haul it in under the tables.
It’s like running a small business! Last year, just for the backpack food, the cost was over $16,000. I don’t think some people realize how big this ministry is.
I do not want this to fall through – the kids are dependent on us as a reliable food source.
Well, I know that’s why we do it. We’ve made a promise of sorts, and like Tom said in the Mountain View story, "we’re in this for the long haul!”
If you think about it – we’re doing 100 bags at one of three schools in the district who have the same or close to the same poverty level. This is a wide-spread need in our community.
That would be hard for me - to know I'm making a difference but that the problem is so big. What else has been challenging for you about this role?
Honestly, carving out time, just like anything – a commitment requires your being intentional about making time for it.
Mary Duke is exactly right - making a significant impact like this does require intentionality and commitment, which is what GFC works to do every school year through the We Love Mountain View ministry.
Right now at GFC, we're in the middle of Operation Cooperation, an annual giving campaign that funds our entire We Love Mountain View ministry. Because of the generosity of our church body through Operation Cooperation, we're able to provide 3,500 bags of Backpack Food to hungry kids at Mountain View every year. Learn more about Operation Cooperation and discover ways to give and serve.
Posted on Fri, May 6, 2016
by Grace Fellowship Church