Recipient Spotlight:  Nathaniel Mission

– by Rachael Brugger, Faith Feeds Board Member

baked-sweet-potatoes (3)Today’s a Sunday afternoon, and 40 sweet potatoes donated from Faith Feeds are baking in the oven at Nathaniel Mission for tonight’s dinner.  The mission, located in the Davis Bottom area of Lexington, has been serving the under-served since the 1930s, and today it cooks enough hot meals each week to serve 200 hungry people.

Before I go on any further, I need to point out that I had to rewrite the previous sentence to better reflect the Nathaniel Mission’s purpose.  As is the common expression, I wrote that the mission “serves 200 meals each week,” but this is just the kind of rhetoric Rev. David MacFarland seeks to avoid.  As he’ll tell you, he’s not so much in the business of putting food on plates as he is in meeting people’s needs.

rev-david (3)“I knew something had to change when we were getting so efficient at serving food that we were putting meatloaf and chocolate ice cream on the same plate,” Rev. David says with a grin. “I don’t know about you, but I never really cared for meatloaf a la mode.”

When it comes to poverty in Lexington, there are a lot of people whose basic physical needs—including food and medical care—are not met. Through its meal program,  market and clinic (which offers free medical, dental and vision services), Nathaniel Mission makes a valuable impact in helping people whose lives have thrown them a curve ball.  But at the same time, this small center tucked in a neighborhood on the end of DeRoode St. is also about meeting a need that Rev. David says far exceeds the physical: acceptance.

“There’s a point when you start believing what society tells you,” he says, alluding to what he calls the “thunk” class—people who rely on their feet as transportation and often hear the “thunk” of a car lock as a driver passes by. But he wants all who come to the mission to feel at home and aspires to treat them like the children of God they are.

“It should be as easy to approach us as approaching Jesus—and Jesus is completely easy to approach,” he says of Nathaniel Mission. “We can only do that if we make it clear that we are here for them, not us.”

There are a number of ways that Nathaniel Mission “serves people,” from avoiding disposable dinnerware and serving meals on real plates to cooking meals that people enjoy eating. The mission makes it a point to serve sliced meat instead of the “dipped” variety (meaning meat hidden in chili, soup or spaghetti sauce) because that is what so many other hunger programs are already cooking up. They also want to offer a meal that can really be savored. Thanks to the produce that Faith Feeds provides, they can do even more of this.

NM Market

Nathaniel Mission visitors have enjoyed a variety of fresh produce provided by Faith Feeds, including scalloped green peppers (see recipe below), celery casserole, fried lettuce and baked sweet potatoes. Particular favorites, though, are “greens, greens, greens and more greens,” Rev. David says.  Much of the produce is distributed to families through the Market Tuesday-Thursday.

As with many hunger programs, the mission has had to rely on foods that can be served inexpensively (which often means veggies from cans) so being able to fill plates with nutritious, hearty and fresh fruits and vegetables has gone a long way in helping them get creative with the menu and putting more delicious meals on the table.

“We determine the quality of our food two ways: by the number of helpings people take and by the amount of food that ends up in the garbage,” Rev. David says. “With the fresh food, people don’t take seconds [because they’re full] and not as much ends up in the garbage.”

Plus, the fresh produce has been a way to be able to reach even more people. “The word spreads about fresh food, and more people come.”

In his work, Rev. David has been challenged by poverty working its way up the socio-economic ladder, with more and more “nice cars” showing up at the mission due to tough economic circumstances. Soon, another challenge will come his way, as he relocates the mission due to the construction of the Newtown Pike Extension through the building’s property. The highway construction has forced the neighborhood population surrounding Nathaniel Mission to dwindle from nearly 200 families to less than 25 and will cause the mission to become a “displaced person.” But despite the heartache this brings, Rev. David sees it as an opportunity. “All in all, it’s not a bad thing for an organization to have to reinvent itself every 80 years or so,” he says. “In spite of the culture of uncertainty caused by the many delays of the project, we are confident God is working in through and around the situation.”

Recipe: Nathaniel Mission’s Famous Scalloped Peppers
Serves 4-6
4 peppers cut into strips
1 cup half-and-half
8 saltine crackers crushed
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Combine all ingredients in a shallow baking pan and cover with cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until firm and cheese has browned just a bit.