Nourishment for the Fredericksburg Community LUCHA's Hunger Relief Ministry

By Caitlyn Furr

I have the privilege of interning with LUCHA ministries this summer through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s (CBF) Student.Go program. After completing CBF’s orientation, I began interning with LUCHA at the beginning of June. I am a graduate student at Emory, seeking a Master’s of Divinity and a Master’s of Public Health. This internship at LUCHA provides me the opportunity to learn about ministry, community development and holistic health all at once. I can’t believe how much I have learned and experienced already!

On Mondays, I participate in LUCHA’s food ministry, which is operated by dedicated volunteers in the community. They arrive at the food bank in Fredericksburg on Monday mornings and spend at least an hour carefully selecting food items to purchase. Once they have selected and paid for the food by pound, they load about 5 shopping carts full of food into their own cars. They drive to Sylvania Heights Baptist Church, which has graciously allowed LUCHA to use its facilities, to sort the food. The volunteers create boxes of food, which include fresh produce, meat, packaged foods, hygiene products, and much more, for families in the community. The volunteers are well-acquainted with the families who will receive the food, so they personalize the boxes to ensure needs are met. For example, if a family has an infant, the volunteers will ensure that family’s box contains diapers. Finally, the volunteers hand deliver boxes to the families in the community. The entire process takes about 4 hours, but many of the same volunteers help every week. I am incredibly impressed with the compassion displayed by LUCHA’s volunteers, and the thoughtfulness they put in to each box they deliver. The program is effective in providing for needs in the community while also encouraging relationship building.

I’ve had the opportunity over the past few weeks to meet various members of the Fredericksburg community who are served by LUCHA. It is clear that they trust and respect LUCHA and its programming. The needs within the community are many, but the community members feel connected to LUCHA and it gives them hope. LUCHA is a place where Latinos in Fredericksburg can turn when they need help, and it works to provide for their needs without judgment. LUCHA is a wonderful example of the love of Christ within the Fredericksburg community. I am grateful to be a part of it this summer, and continue to learn from this ministry.

Each year, the Cinco Panes (Five Loaves) food pantry serves approximately 1,200 persons in need.  Through the years, the ministry has evolved from a more traditional style pantry that provides boxes of groceries  to needy families to a more participatory model where the clients themselves have become the volunteers.  This new model has created a sense of community among many Latino immigrants who otherwise wouldn’t know each other.  The volunteers are Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, and Baptist; Puerto Rican, Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan; young and not-so-young.  The ministry helps non/limited-English-speaking immigrants gain a greater sense of self worth as they work together for the greater good of the Latino community.  And it gives parents and youth the opportunity to work together.  During the past year, over 70 persons have served as volunteer.

Volunteers brave winter storms Despite freezing temperatures, food bank serves families

Icicles hang from car bumpers and forgotten snowmen line the streets of Fredericksburg, Virginia. It’s 20 degrees with a wind chill, and schools have closed for the week.  Most people are huddled in their homes and offices, sipping hot cocoa and snuggling under electric blankets.

But not the volunteers from LUCHA Ministries. These women and men led by LUCHA’s only paid employee, Aida Kent are bundled up in scarves and gloves, sorting through boxes of donated produce at the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank.

“Dress warmly, today girls,” Aida tells us before we leave. “We’re going into the freezer!”

One of LUCHA’s key ministries is working with the Food Bank to provide provisions for Latino families who have fallen on hard times.

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Take Cenon, for example.

Cenon worked the night shift at Wendy’s, walking or riding his bike home around two or three in the morning. One day, as he was crossing the bridge some miles from his house, he was hit by a car and left bleeding in the street. He yelled for help, but no one came near him. . “I screamed and screamed, “ he said. “Finally I heard the ambulance.”

At last an unknown bystander called 911, and Cenon was taken to the hospital.

His leg had to be amputated at the knee, leaving him unable to work. The hit-and-run driver was caught by security cameras but didn’t have insurance to cover Cenon’s medical expenses.  Despite the hardship, Cenon still has a bright smile as he learns how to live with one leg. Families like Cenon’s require supplementary assistance during their recovery process.

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Every Monday, LUCHA’s volunteers give their time at the Food Bank; often working through lunch to make sure the six to seven families LUCHA serves have enough to eat. Every volunteer is from the Latino community and what is leftover is divided among them to take to their families.

Supervisor Aida Kent knows what she’s doing. A native of Puerto Rico, she’s fluent in English and Spanish and also works as a translator at the hospital. She makes sure each volunteer and family is cared for and often makes personal visits to check on her clients. Kent has around 60 rotating volunteers from the surrounding Hispanic community who are willing to lend a helping hand to families in crisis.

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Despite the freezing temperatures and icy roads, the volunteers of LUCHA are adding a little warmth to the week.

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