Hunger to Serve
The Brown Bag Ministry provides 14,000 bag lunches a month, and that’s just one part of the outreach.
By Carol Wills
Photos by Greg Davenport
Whatever your path, whatever your beliefs, most of us agree that feeding hungry people is one of the best ways of sharing peace on earth—and five Wake County churches are making that a priority through an organization called Brown
The ministry, founded in 2005 by Mary Jo Bukowski from Apex and Patricia Hartley from Youngsville, was in response to the calling Bukowski felt to provide wholesome lunches for the homeless and the food-insecure folks of Wake County.
Brown Bag Ministry currently operates out of St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Apex, St. Eugene Catholic Church in Wendell, St. Philip Lutheran Church in Raleigh, The Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi in Raleigh, and St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Wake Forest.
Brown bag lunches that typically consist of a sandwich, a piece of fruit, something crunchy, something sweet, and a bottle of water are assembled by volunteers—individuals, families, and groups. In addition, hot meals are served on the second and third Saturday of each month in downtown Raleigh at the Oak City Outreach Center.
As you can well imagine, this ministry takes a lot of coordination and a lot of heart. David Legarth, executive director of Brown Bag Ministry, has been serving since 2010. “It’s not hard to fall in love with the ministry,” Legarth says. “After you have the chance to make 1,400 lunches with your family and friends and then hand them to someone in need, boy, do the blessings flow
In looking at how the ministry may grow in the future, Legarth notes, “We would love to purchase a refrigerated van so that we can increase the amount of fresh produce we bring to those we serve. Many areas in east and southeast Raleigh are considered USDA food deserts.”
“We’re blessed to have incredible ongoing support from all of our host churches, including St. Andrew’s in Apex,” says Joseph Gaitens, a board member and one of its Apex site coordinators. “The parishioners and parish staff are exceptionally generous and supportive, week in and week out. Without a place for our volunteers to come together every Saturday morning, we’d basically be an ‘empty ministry.’ Instead, we’re very much alive and growing.”
Thanks to Bukowski and now Legarth, who heads the board of directors, Brown Bag Ministry has flourished since 2005. It is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) charitable organization that prepares and distributes more than 14,000 bag lunches to homeless and food-insecure people each month. Plus, the ministry heads up special projects throughout the year, such as seasonal food drives to meet targeted food needs for specific communities, seasonal clothing and shoe drives, Christmas toy drives, and other special events. The recipients include homeless individuals, families in low-income housing, and seniors in HUD housing. Currently there are 20 distribution addresses, including 10 in Apex, three in Wake Forest, two in Raleigh, and five in Wendell. For the upcoming season, donations of blankets and coats would be most welcome.
Brown Bag Ministry also celebrates the true spirit of giving by collecting, assembling, and delivering 200 gift bags on Christmas Eve to homeless men staying at the county’s men’s shelter, the South Wilmington Street Center. The gift bags contain such things as washcloths, body wash, hats, socks and gloves, other hygiene items, and—hopefully this year—new underwear and undershirts.
In addition, volunteers represent Brown Bag Ministry by participating in community events, thereby raising awareness of the needs of the homeless and the hungry, many of whom are migrant workers, disabled, or are living in challenging circumstances—be it the elderly or children who lack access to food on the weekends.
If you, your family, or a group to which you belong would like to help prepare bag lunches or hot meals, assemble gift bags, or assist with seasonal food, clothing, and toy drives, you may sign up on the website, brownbagministry.org.
Questions may be directed to BrownBagMinistry@yahoo.com and donations may be made on the website or mailed to: Brown Bag Ministry, P.O. Box 512, Apex, N.C. 27502