By John Pierce

Episcopal priest, church consultant and Religion News Service columnist Tom Ehrich posted a column today about the challenges and, therefore, new ministry opportunities some churches are discovering.

Specifically, he wrote about the findings of a focus group that is part of a strategic planning effort at Trinity Episcopal Church in Clarksville, Tenn. The sobering truth, the group discovered, is that both a kindergarten teacher and a college professor spoke of students who often show up hungry.

More students than ever, someone reported, are seeking food from charitable organizations.

While the whole column addressed important matters, one line quoted from a university staffer brought both a smile and a pause to ponder: “A local Baptist congregation hands out Pop Tarts just so students will have something to eat.”

As one who has been on both the receiving and giving ends, I can appreciate that act of kindness — although I continue to wonder: Why Pop Tarts?

Without a weekend meal plan in college and only the meager money earned from on-campus work, I was always grateful that teachers Ann Baskin and Rena Storey (Henderson) provided donuts to our Sunday school class at First Baptist Church of Rome, Ga. And the monthly luncheon for students was a wonderful and hearty bonus.

Sometimes my roommate Joe Purcell and I would pool together enough dimes and nickels on weekends to buy two bowls of soup at Dunkin Donuts. (A refill and extra crackers were free.)

If we came up short, we’d just buy some muffin mix at the discounted Warehouse Grocery and bake them up in the toaster oven illegally stored in our dorm room.

Later as a campus minister, shaped by my own college experiences, I paid close attention to students for whom buying them a meal here and there made a difference. And appetites at that age can be wolfish.

However, the hunger needs described in Ehrich’s column are more serious — and deserve a proper understanding and response.

It is always helpful for congregations to take closer looks at the needs in their communities. Sometimes they are less than obvious, though often just barely masked.

Then the responsible, loving, caring and generous thing to do is to meet those needs head-on. Even if it’s just some Baptists handing out Pop Tarts to hungry students.

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