Come to the Table: Expanding to Meet the Needs of Their Neighbors

Table of Crace Food Pantry

In 2017, Tuscaloosa AL churches University Presbyterian and Covenant Presbyterian merged, forming Grace Presbyterian Church. At that time, the newly formed congregation envisioned a new identity and priorities. One of the church’s first goals was to increase its work in food security by expanding the former University Presbyterian’s Deacon’s Food Pantry. The program moved from a closet at University’s old campus to the Grace campus. The expanded program was called Loaves and Fishes and began serving 300 families a month.

With a low-cost loan from Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program and the sale of the University church campus, Grace Presbyterian was able to construct a new building adjacent to the church that would allow the congregation to transform and expand Loaves and Fishes into a client-choice market-style food pantry. This expanded program took the name Table of Grace. With the expansion into a new building, the ministry has grown in the number of volunteers working, hours in operation, of people served, and in pounds of food distributed. The mission has expanded its reach into the community, with additional community support, and grants. The program now provides more fresh food from local farmers’ markets and accepts food that would otherwise be thrown away from organizations trying to reduce food waste. The church has even built a garden next to the market.

Since the expansion in October 2023, Grace has tripled its capacity, now serving 900 families monthly. This growth has had a significant impact on the community. The market brings new people to the Grace to shop, to volunteer, and to worship. A larger Latinx population coming to the market has led to more volunteers who can translate. “It has brought a lot of energy to our congregation,” says Pastor Caroline Kelly, “and a lot of our new members are involved in day-to-day operations.”

Table of Grace is growing and thriving with the support of many local agencies who provide volunteers, food, supplies, and additional services. From its inception, Table of Grace garnered guidance and expertise from organizations like West Alabama Food Bank, Auburn University Extension, Schoolyard Roots, and The House of Tuscaloosa. Volunteers come from universities, United Way, and many local businesses and organizations. Table of Grace also works with local nonprofits like Bottoms Up Diaper Bank and Temporary Emergency Services to ensure that its neighbors have non-food needs met.

Table of Grace Food Pantry Manager Naja Cooper-Bell is proud of the work of the volunteers and grateful that the pantry can make such a difference in the lives of their neighbors. “What makes Table of Grace’s operating systems special to me is the neighbor’s ability to choose what they eat, which minimizes waste and spoilage,” she explains, adding, “I am thankful for the opportunity to manage such an amazing organization. Table of Grace is a true example of Grace through Faith.”

The expansion enabled the congregation and the community to reach out to those in need of support. It has allowed the congregation to share food and the love of God with its neighbors in the way they had envisioned at the time of the merger. The Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program is grateful to have partnered with Grace Presbyterian Church to make this vision a reality.