"In the garden you learn a lot about identity," Kaley explained, as we discussed World Hunger Relief's School Garden Project.
WHRI, in Waco, is a "Christian organization committed to the alleviation of hunger around the world" through sustainable farming. While WHRI, supported by multiple Baptist churches, has agricultural programs internationally, such as in Liberia, El Salvador, and Haiti, they also have projects here in Texas.
The Texas Baptist Hunger Offering is a long-time partner of WHRI. Currently, the offering supports the ministry's School Gardening Project in three local schools. The project is an afterschool program that teaches kids through nutrition education, cooking classes, and hands-on gardening experience.
Clad in city-slicker boots (which were clearly never meant for farming), I met with Kaley Necessary, a school garden intern and Illinois native, whose main role is to facilitate the afterschool program in the Waco school district.
Throughout the interview, Kaley repeatedly spoke to the importance of the garden program at J.H. Hines Elementary School. Ninety-six percent of the students enrolled at Hines are on free or reduced lunch (elementaryschools.org). Volunteers from Baylor University's Urban Missions join Kaley weekly to assist in garden maintenance, teaching classes, and mentoring students.
The program provides a lighthearted environment where kids take the lead in their education about health, food systems, and life skills. Kaley told me about a student at Hines who expressed great joy after a flower he planted bloomed in an old milk jug. This experience helped him realize his capacity to nurture and make a positive impact on other things – and people.
Matt Hess, executive director of WHRI, said the program is one component of the initiative for health: "School gardens are part of a continuum of healthy eating we are working on in Waco. Other pieces include the Veggie Van, farmers market, and support of healthy foods at new and existing stores (coming soon)."
I talk a lot about poverty, hunger alleviation, and food justice in my job. It's great because these are topics that matter and are close to the heart of God (see Matthew 25:25-29).
While conversations are important, one thing I love more is visiting Texas Baptist Hunger Offering ministries that are working tirelessly and digging-in-the-dirt to see full bellies, hearts, and hands.
If you would like to learn more about World Hunger Relief or would like for the Veggie Van to come to your church, contact Matt Hess at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waco area BGCT Baptists directly partnering with WHRI:
Cornerstone Baptist Church - Robinson
Lake Shore Baptist Church - Waco
Meadowbrook Baptist Church - Robinson
Seventh & James Baptist Church – Waco
Western Heights Baptist Church – Waco
Dayspring Baptist Church - Waco
Calvary Baptist Church - Waco
Lakeview Baptist Church - Lacy Lakeview