by CBF Communications

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. – In communities around the country, surplus and donated foods are gathered into a food bank or pantry to help struggling families in times of crisis. Especially during the holiday season, people give staples and other foods they enjoy to organizations that feed the hungry.

But when an immigrant family faces a crisis, the local food bank often does not have the staples the family needs most because their diet is different from the typical American diet. LUCHA Ministries, a non-profit organization in northern Virginia, is helping to solve this problem for the Latino community in the Fredericksburg, Va. area.

"In 2006, LUCHA Ministries discovered that many people had a lot of financial need and one of the things that we could do in the community to help them would be to provide access to the food bank," said Sue Smith, LUCHA executive director and a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship affiliate. "But we found that the types of food that really are most critical to many of the recent immigrants are not really the foods that they always have at the local food bank or pantry."

As Smith accompanied clients to the food bank, she discovered many were leaving without many of the staples needed to make a meal when they got home. For example, food banks typically do not have corn flour for making tortillas or rice and dried beans in large quantities.

With the help of church and associational partners in Virginia, LUCHA Ministries created a mini food pantry of the staples of the Latino diet to supplement what is provided by Fredericksburg’s area food bank. The ministry helps many in the community who are unemployed and also those who hold multiple jobs but are struggling to provide for their children.

"For Hispanics, it’s not always easy for someone to get work that is economically viable," said one Latino client, who helps LUCHA sort items at the food pantry. "When we go to the food bank, it’s because, in reality, we need food in our homes."

Smith suggests that one way Fellowship Baptists can be the presence of Christ in their communities is by contributing ethnic foods to local food banks and pantries. Smith also recommends that churches hold a food drive for those specific items, which might open the door to building relationships with immigrants in the community.