Most often when we hear about religion in the news, it’s not a joyful story, but rather a story about conflict and violence between people of different faiths. However, today I want to share another narrative about faith communities who collaborate across their differences for justice and service, a narrative that is also quite present in our world. Interfaith activism is happening in countries across the world–on college campuses, in cities and towns, in governments, in businesses and right here in New York.
The Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry in Mount Kisco, New York is an inspiring example of a partnership between multiple faith communities that works to serve others. It started almost twenty-three years ago with a handful of representatives from Mount Kisco Presbyterian Church, Bet Torah Synagogue and one unaffiliated volunteer. Since then, it has blossomed into an alliance of twelve diverse congregations (Jewish, Unitarian and Christian, including three Episcopal churches) whose members fill different roles in the pantry—everything from serving on the Board to facilitating distribution to fundraising. Together, they served 19,500 people so far this year and they expect about 6,500 more through their doors before the end of December.
An active familiarity with the needs of their community keeps the Interfaith Food Pantry grounded. At a very basic level, pantry volunteers and staff meet the community’s needs by opening their doors, not just to Mount Kisco residents, but to anyone in northern Westchester County not served by another weekly pantry. The food pantry also ensures that their distribution times accommodate working parents, stay-at-home moms, non-English speakers and even seniors. The latter demographic is reached through weekly home deliveries, and a new mobile pantry that visits a local senior center and an intergenerational daycare center each month.
The Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry also strives to offer its community members choices in what they eat by providing dairy, fresh produce, dry goods, protein and hundreds of pounds of bread donated from Panera each week. Guests are welcome to choose from these foods based on the size of their family. Furthermore, the pantry seeks to improve the health of the community by offering nutrition classes through Cornell University Cooperative Extension and The Food Bank for Westchester. When I visited the pantry earlier this month, they were just wrapping up a class that demonstrated techniques to buy healthier food at lower prices—something we could all use help with. Finally, in addition to providing food and education to their clients, the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry assists visitors with on-site SNAP registration and WIC pre-screening.
I am convinced that the strength of Mount Kisco’s efforts comes from the collaborative nature of their organization—a banding together of dozens of people from diverse backgrounds all committed to the same thing. Mount Kisco provides a model for sharing knowledge and resources throughout a community in order to ensure that everyone is fed. If you’d like more information about this Episcopal Charities’ funded program, visit their website at http://www.mountkiscofoodpantry.org/.