Presbyterian Hunger Action Advocate educates congregations on helping those struggling with hunger and poverty

Denise Pillow says listening is some times the best action

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Hunger Action Advocate Denise Pillow dons ‘ears’ for the Two Cents-a-Meal/CentsAbility offering at presbytery meetings. (Photo by Dottie Hanshew)

Hunger Action Advocate Denise Pillow dons ‘ears’ for the Two Cents-a-Meal/CentsAbility offering at presbytery meetings. (Photo by Dottie Hanshew)

LOUISVILLE – Presbyterians have a long history of helping those in need and have shown time and time again that they are willing to roll up their sleeves and go to work. Presbytery of the Peaks is a good example of people in action. Denise Pillow is the Hunger Action Advocate (HAA) for the presbytery, which includes 125 congregations across Central Virginia.

Pillow sees her job as that of an educator and communicator, raising awareness about the work they do, including the popular Cents-Ability program called “Two Cents a Meal,” a concept that originated from Presbyterian Women and has been promoted by the Presbyterian Hunger Program as a way of funding both local and national work. It simply invites congregations to contribute a few cents at each meal to help alleviate hunger and poverty.

“Our congregations contribute close to $90 thousand every year to this program. We have a grant work group that meets to disburse those funds,” said Pillow. “Half of the funds go to local organizations and ministries involved in hunger work. We use the Presbyterian Hunger Program guidelines to help us evaluate grant applications.”

Pillow says the work group provides grant funding for a variety of projects ranging from direct relief programs such as food pantries and soup kitchens, to those looking at the bigger picture.

“We are trying to help people understand the root causes of poverty and seek solutions, even if they’re main focus is providing direct relief,” she said. “We encourage them to look at the next steps and address the systemic causes.”

Pillow, who has been the HAA with the presbytery for eight and a half years, says it is not an easy job and comes with many challenges.

“Advocacy and policy work can be so important to addressing the causes of hunger and yet so many people are concerned about being involved in anything they might consider politics,” said Pillow. “We see our job as being the voice for those who have no voice. There is a challenge in getting people involved and contacting those who make the policies.”

Pillow adds that getting support from the Presbyterian Hunger Program is critical to success. “There are so many ways to address hunger and poverty and many people aren’t aware of the methods to do that.”

She says that one of the keys to success in this work is to listen carefully to those you want to help.

“Many of those we reach out to will tell us they would rather have help in the distribution of food that is already available to them rather than the collection of additional items,” she said. “They may not have the money to buy or the means to distribute and transport the goods. Some times we are so eager and anxious to help we may not be looking at the best way to help them. It’s a big challenge to listen and not just jump in and do what we think is best.”

“Part of why we believe the work of the HAA network is so important is because these folks know what’s a better fit for their local communities, particularly when it comes to direct food relief,” said Jessica Maudlin, associate for the Hunger Program’s Enough for Everyone. “ They are familiar with the specific challenges and resources on the local level. This allows them to form relationships and to do the one on one listening, which is invaluable in addressing issue of hunger.”

Pillow says people who invest in this ministry should always respect the dignity of all people.

“We are trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus and follow the command to love God and our neighbor, to do justice and walk humbly with our God,” she said. “Our hope is to build relationships with people through out this journey and that’s when change can really happen.”


The Presbyterian Hunger Program works with Hunger Action Advocates in 30 presbyteries across the U.S. The HAA position is funded through a matching grant to presbyteries from PHP as a part of educating and connecting Presbyterians to local hunger work in the presbytery and PC(USA)’s national and global work addressing hunger.

Find the Hunger Action Advocate closest to your area and give today to support the work of Presbyterian Hunger Program to bring hope to communities and individuals struggling against hunger.

Presbyterian Mission, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

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