by Pr. Justin Kosec
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46–47)
At a conference this summer, sitting in creaky chairs under the nave of Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, I found myself struggling to define a neighbor.
I was talking with Jetty Duffy-Matzner, a member of our Love in Action Core Ministry Team, at the World Hunger Leadership Gathering. We were trying to consider how to serve neighbors to Our Savior’s. We were considering the cluster of houses around us; the Hezekiah House project that offers affordable housing with properties owned by Our Savior’s; and who, exactly, calls OSL “their” church.
Then, we began to wonder: Was there a way we could serve our neighbors at Augustana University? After all, those students are our neighbors, right?
Late last year, Jetty invited Augustana administrators for a conversation around food security on campus. We expected little response. But at that first meeting, we found ourselves pulling chairs up to the conference table to accommodate administrators, staff, and students. Afterward, I think Jetty and I wondered what we had unleashed.
Together, we hatched a simple plan: to provide care packages for students over Christmas break, when food service shuts down.
We shared this plan with our generous congregation, and the response was overwhelming. Money and food poured in; cans and bags of food piled up behind the front desk in the office. We couldn’t keep up with your generosity. Your response pushed us to dream bigger: Could we open a food shelf for college students to serve them throughout the academic year?
We had the staff support at Augustana; and, thanks to you, we had the food. One question remained: Would this ministry have anyone to serve? After we announced our intention to open a food shelf, I received this question many times. Do Augustana students really need extra food? Are there really that many “poor” students on campus? Are we solving a problem that doesn’t exist?
Our partners on campus, however, gave us every reason to continue. From student leaders to the International Programs Office to Campus Ministry, we repeatedly heard their desire for a ministry like this. They offered volunteers to fill the slots. They gave suggestions for things we should stock, like personal care items. It felt like God was giving us every excuse to step forward.
We launched the Campus Cupboard on March 4, just in time for Augustana spring break. We had no students that first day. But then a small trickle of visitors each day after. Their stories immediately left a mark on our hearts.
One student had recently arrived from Nigeria. He couldn’t find salt in the grocery store, but we never thought to stock salt. Our Food Coordinator Debbie gave me a canister from our kitchen. Another student took soap and shampoo; another, a comb. Almost everyone took pasta, ramen, or mac and cheese (college!). Our first visitor told me, “My friend and I were talking about break, and she said, ‘I don’t think I’ll have enough money to buy food.’” We sent her back with extra.
So in only a few short days, the students showed us how much they needed this ministry.
And then Coronavirus hit South Dakota. Overnight—it was literally overnight, remember?—schools were closed and large gatherings suspended. On March 15, our first Sunday of suspended in-person worship services at OSL, I prepared to preach in an empty sanctuary. Meanwhile, I saw Jetty Duffy-Matzner and Michelle Harvey, Director of Student Engagement at Augustana, hauling out bags of food to be distributed on-campus during the Coronavirus closures. In the hour after that, five more students showed up to the Campus Cupboard in search of food.
Overnight, Augie spring break had gone from one week to four. If students couldn’t afford to buy food over a one-week break, what would they do for four weeks? Where could they go?
As it happened, months ago, God had begun to answer that question: They could go to the Campus Cupboard at Our Savior’s.