Grace Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa has started construction on a market-style food pantry that will open by this fall as Table of Grace.
The “client choice market-style food pantry” will be at the corner of Hargrove Road and Prince Avenue, across the street from the church. This reinvention of the church’s current Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry will allow clients to select from inventory provided by the West Alabama Food Bank and other donations. Clients can exercise freedom of choice and the market-style process avoids waste, the church said.
“At Table of Grace, we will still have the same foods that we have now, but clients will choose what they put in their bags,” said Food Pantry Director Jennifer Shepard. “We will be able to offer a greater variety to choose from, and include items that address health/diet issues. Right now, everybody receives a similar bag, and substitutions are not possible.”
Table of Grace will also expand the church food ministry with a community gleaning program, an orchard, and a community garden to offer more fresh produce to clients, she said. The expansion will require more volunteers and partnerships with other organizations in Tuscaloosa, she said.
“We plan to be able to add seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables to this selection from food we grow in a garden and from a network of growing and gleaning throughout the area,” said Brooke Peterson, a member of Grace Presbyterian who is organizing the new garden. ” We will need volunteers for food distribution on a weekly basis. We will need people to help stock and organize the food. We will need gardeners and community organizers.”
The church’s feeding ministry has been going for more than two decades since the founding of the Deacon’s Food Pantry in 2002 at the former University Presbyterian Church.
When University Presbyterian (near the University of Alabama campus) merged with Covenant Presbyterian Church in 2016 to form Grace Presbyterian, the feeding ministry became the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry.
“When the church thought about what it wanted to do with those funds, we knew we wanted to use them for people outside of Grace, rather than on ourselves,” said Linda Grote, a member of Grace who serves on the task force overseeing construction. “We wanted to make a major investment in this community.”
Table of Grace will have increased freezer, refrigeration, and storage space and offer more food to more families in the community, church leaders said. The current Food Pantry monthly serves 250-300 households, approximately 600 to 800 people. In 2022, the pantry gave away over 85,000 pounds of food. Anyone who qualifies for SNAP, TANF, SSI automatically qualifies to receive free food from the pantry and others may qualify if they meet certain income eligibility requirements. For those who don’t meet any of those requirements, the church offers emergency food bags.
“Table of Grace reflects who we are as a church,” said Emily Altman, chairperson of Grace’s Mission, Peace, and Justice Committee. “We are a church that feeds God’s people.”